Creating an elevated experience at the intersection of food and entertainment

From upscale venues with fancy cocktails and the latest technology to those with classic meals and games, “eatertainment” outposts are crafting unique experiences to cater to today’s consumers. The concept, which arguably started with Dave & Buster’s in 1982, has spawned new iterations that are working to keep up with changing consumer preferences.

Punch Bowl Social, a growing concept that was just named to Fast Company’s Top 50 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2019, combines bowling, karaoke, virtual reality and old-school arcade games with dining options ranging from spiced edamame and tacos to roasted poblano mac and cheese. Other companies like Topgolf, Main Event and Pinstripes offer varying food options coupled with unique entertainment experiences.

Tim Powell, vice president and senior analyst at Q1 Consulting, believes these eatertainment or “barcade” venues are a blossoming segment. “Adults, especially millennials, have flocked to these types of concepts,” he says. “They provide a social setting where it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening, and many do.”

A unique appeal

According to Powell, the business model works because the goal is to keep revenue in-house while giving people a reason to remain under one roof.

Robert Thompson, CEO and founder of Punch Bowl Social, believes the experiential element helps set the concept apart from singular dining or entertainment experiences. Thompson says his company emphasizes its environment while putting things together in an on-trend, but unique way, and while it has seen success among millennials, other generations have also gotten in on the fun.

“Our primary success has been with millennials, and now Gen Z,” Thompson explains. “We know that an emphasis on millennials actually attracts Gen X and Gen Z.”

Focusing on food

Powell believes there can be a lack of attention when it comes to food offerings, but he says companies should be careful in this area. “These concepts can’t just do foodservice half-heartedly – they need to be all in,” he says. “I think if these concepts are going to survive, the level of restaurant-quality food must increase.”

Indeed, while there isn’t just one cornerstone to success for Punch Bowl Social, Thompson says the scratch kitchen and culinary integrity have helped make the venue popular among guests.

Dave & Buster’s itself is turning to quick, unique food options with the test launch of its fast-casual taco concept. T&T Tacos is part of Dave & Buster’s flagship location in Dallas and features a food truck facade, street tacos ranging from $4 to $5.50 and adult beverages.

While the company has trimmed down its sit-down menu, the new concept makes sense for today’s restaurant-goers, CEO Brian Jenkins said in a December earnings call. “This area is designed to add fun to the guest experience, while serving their need for convenience and speed,” Jenkins said.

Expanding on success

While the eatertainment concept is still burgeoning, many companies are finding ways to integrate themselves into new areas and avenues. Topgolf, for example, has introduced a smaller concept, the Swing Suite, that allows guests to have a VIP food and drink experience while hitting the links virtually. Likewise, Punch Bowl Social has plans to branch out as a lifestyle brand with the introduction of a boutique hotel.

Regardless of the avenue of growth, Powell believe certain cities and neighborhoods are ripe for eatertainment outposts. “These concepts perform best in urban settings, especially areas of a city that are in a revitalization stage,” he explains. “A former warehouse provides a blank slate to design a city/region-specific unit that can hold all of the games [they] offer.”

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