The New Night Out: Eatertainment, Drink & Be Merry

A night out used to be complete with a couple of drinks and a game of darts, but the stakes have been raised.

Concepts like Punch Bowl Social, Topgolf, and Pinstripes offer arcade games, golf, bowling, bocce, karaoke, and still the old favorites of pool and sports-viewing. They’re known as eatertainment venues.

What’s important to these locations varies by concept. Clearly, the entertainment needs to be well executed, but the food and beverage is important too.

“The experience is the key to eatertainment concepts,” says Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, Chicago, Ill. “Adult beverages are second, with food providing an important element but often the least profitable and lowest contributor to revenue.”

Almond Joy Milkshake at Punch Bowl Social
Almond Joy Milkshake

For the beverages, he says, “it's important to offer high-quality craft beverages and stock local favorites that are in some cases hard to get otherwise, like local craft brewery tap, bottle or can beer.”

Give this a read: Eatertainment is the New Nightclub: How Guests are Changing Nightlife

At Punch Bowl Social, which is headquartered in Denver, Colo., 89 percent of revenue comes from food and beverage, and that’s because it’s done well, says founder and CEO Robert Thompson. “We are very much a restaurant/bar that has eatertainment and the [other eatertainment concepts] are entertainment with some food and beverage. Most of our customers end up coming in to have an eating and drinking experience. They might come to game the first time, then they understand what our total offering is and come back to eat or drink.”

Food here is from scratch and upscale, with a focus, Thompson says, on nostalgic items like burgers to “more esoteric items like chicken and waffles.”

Food at Punch Bowl Social in Dallas, TX
Menu items at Punch Bowl Social in Dallas

For his beverage program, craft is what wins—craft cocktails, craft zero-proof cocktails and craft beers. “That’s what the modern consumer is interested in,” he points out.

Overall, grazing is popular in eatertainment concepts, since guests are often busy participating in the fun. “Kitchens have to focus on shareable foods, small plates and foods that can be easily consumed without making a mess and spoiling the experience,” Tristano points out.

He expects the eatertainment trend to continue, as Millennials “look for new and exciting ways to socialize and bring new family members.”

Give this a read: How One Restaurant is Testing Eatertainment

He expects to see changes, however. “As many consumers are waiting to have children, managing kids will be a challenge and opportunity for this trend. I would expect to see more automation, including mobile device ordering/payment, self-service table-top kiosks, and automated beer, wine and spirit pouring walls. Group occasions should be a good fit with large party rooms continuing to increase in need and use.”

Pinball machines at Punch Bowl Social in Dallas, TX
Pinball machines inside Punch Bowl Social in Dallas

Tristano also says it will be important for concepts to adapt to different markets and make sure the cookie cutter approach doesn't drive expansion but supports adaptation to different market needs.

Punch Bowl Social, which is an urban-location concept, already has plans for change. Beginning next year, it will launch a version that works well in mall environments, offering more gaming and experiential classroom sessions. These will run while guests consume their beverages and could include classes such as cocktail making, fashion, or making pet collars. “That’s going to be a growth channel for us,” Thompson points out. For now, the chain has 19 locations with six more set to launch this year.

The growth of eatertainment is a reversion to a simpler time, Thompson says. “Casual dining has become so stale and they’re losing market share. Eatertainment is filling that need.”

Bowling lanes and seating inside Punch Bowl Social in Rancho Cucamonga
The bowling lanes inside Punch Bowl Social in Rancho Cucamonga, definitely not stale

It’s also because Millennials crave experiences, he says, a fact with which Danny Bendas, managing partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants in Newport Beach, Calif., concurs.

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“Because of the social media age, the age of Instagram, everyone is photographing everything,” he says. “Trying to capture memorable moments is important, and restaurateurs have to have something that’s photographable and that can be shared. So, you’re seeing this growth of eatertainment, along with ‘wow’ food presentations.”

Shoe cage inside Punch Bowl Social in Stapleton
Even the bowling shoe cage inside Punch Bowl Social in Stapleton is photographable

But, Bendas cautions, with everything you offer, you’ve got to make sure your execution is there. “Quality wins every time. You need to make sure you do things that are special that people will remember, and if you do that with a few items, people will remember them.”

Hungry for more like this? Register today for Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 and add these presentations to your calendar: "The Domino Effect & Its Impact on the Guest Experience" by Michael Tipps, Homan Taghdiri and David Foss of Invictus Hospitality; "Design Challenges: New Building or Second-Generation" with award-winning architect and designer Mark Alan Diaz; AREA15's Howard Weiss and "The New Wave of Experiential: Creating ROI from Space Utilization & Audience Engagement"; Michael Matthews of Sound Bite Productions, Inc. tackling "Talent Placement: How to Identify, Secure and Present your Live Entertainment!"; and "The Rise of the Robots: Where AI & the Hospitality Industry Collide" by the legendary Tobin Ellis.