Creating Fun at the Zoo: Cutting edge guest services facilities make an impact

Brookfield Zoo, South American Marketplace Photography by Doug Snower

The mission of zoos and aquariums includes scientific study, wildlife conservation and education. In order to deliver on the latter two goals zoos across the country realize the value that innovative exhibits and high quality guest services bring to the zoo experience.  The practice of entertaining while educating is an evolving paradigm.  Zoological institutions must nurture a balance between these fuctions. 

Guest services need to enhance the zoo’s message.  With education comes awareness of the value of conservation. Research published by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums1 shows that visiting a zoo can positively reinforce visitors’ commitment to wildlife conservation.  Exposure to animals that one would never have the opportunity to see in the wild is the valuable experience that zoos provide.  Creating an optimal experience for guests to visit periodically is one of the many challenges facing zoos across the country.

South American Marketplace, Bocaditas Restaurant • Photography by Doug Snower

Competing for an ever shrinking entertainment dollar, zoo administrators must fulfill their mission while entertaining their guests with a quality experience.  In order for a zoo to prosper, the guests’ experience should be perceived as a value and encourage frequent visits. According to the AZA study mentioned above, zoos should “…design the experience for each dominant group in order to match their desired outcomes.” Quality guest service facilities are a key component in meeting the needs of a varied audience.

These supporting facilities enable patrons to relax and enjoy the day, helping to extend their stay. High quality food and beverage facilities, gift shops, and gathering spaces not only enhance the guests’ experience but are necessary revenue resources for the zoo.

Habitat Africa, Brookfield Zoo • Rendering by Aria Group Architects, Inc. 

They can be an integral part of the educational experience and provide fun and entertainment. Placing these unique amenities optimally within the overall zoo plan can have a major impact on how the visitor perceives their experience. Attention must be paid to facilities from the beginning to the end of the experience.  Entrances and ticketing facilities, dining venues, retail shops and restroom facilities are just some of the many guest services amenities that require thoughtful design and innovative solutions. These venues are also opportunities for education in conservation and sustainability through the use of environmentally friendly (Green) design.

Brookfield Zoo South Gate • Rendering by Aria Group Architects, Inc. 

Many mission oriented organizations are discovering the value of hiring development consultants with hospitality and entertainment experience.  Zoos and museums have historically relied on specialists in exhibit design technology to plan and design non-exhibit amenities for their institutions.  Or, as is often the case, rely on staff to design guest services amenities. 


With today’s entertainment savvy consumer the value of working with designers well versed in hospitality, entertainment, retail and food service design becomes evident. Capturing the thematic quality of an African Exhibit or immersing the guest in a South American Market requires experience in executing thematic design.   With an experienced eye on the latest entertainment design trends and knowledge of materials and technologies inherent in the field, these design specialists can bring creative ideas to master planning and architectural development of these unique environments.

Brookfield Zoo, Seven Seas Gift Shop • Rendering by Aria Group Architects, Inc. 

Aria Group Architects, Inc. is a multi-disciplined architecture, planning and interior design firm that specializes in hospitality, retail, entertainment and food service projects.  Their experience with the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield Illinois, the Art Institute of Chicago and various retail and family entertainment venues provides them with a unique background for creating entertaining and innovative projects within the context of the educational environment.  For more information on the firm visit or request an information packet by calling 708-445-8400 or emailing Laura Lencioni.


This article is written from the perspective of Aria Group Architects, Inc. Any links to other organization’s materials are for the readers’ information only, and does not imply an affiliation with or endorsement by those organizations.


1. Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium 
Citation: Falk, J.H.; Reinhard, E.M.; Vernon, C.L.; Bronnenkant, K.; Deans, N.L.; Heimlich, J.E., (2007) Published by: Association of Zoos & Aquariums