Restaurants and Gaming: Playing to Win
In the best of times, restaurants operate between a 3-6% profit margin, with around 60% of them failing within the first year. On top of that, the competition in the market can cut into those already-tight figures. To combat this, restaurateurs have employed some extraordinary tactics to foster a community around their business and attract new customers whenever possible. Restaurants and gaming provide that extra incentive, from video games to role-playing to trivia, in keeping people interested and returning for seconds.
While it may not seem like it at first glance, social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter have many similarities to gaming. Over time, our world has been slowly gamified, from the “likes” and engagement on social media posts to restaurant loyalty programs. In both examples, players receive “points” for participation, either through popular posts or purchases. Those points result in dopamine hits, the good feelings you get from the interactions you make online.
Social media is a metagame, a self-perpetuating machine that thrives on attention and rewards in manufactured satisfaction. Just like in real life, you can purchase shortcuts by promoting your posts, casting a considerably wider net for potential public feedback. The higher your engagement, the more people want to play. It’s circular, and all roads lead back to your business. Still, while restaurants need social media for promotion, you probably didn’t have this type of “game” had in mind, so let’s look at a more obvious example.
Like and Share to Win
Yes, social media is organized like a game. Still, the more obvious playable aspects are those that involve participation and may lead to some desired outcome. Generally, that desired outcome is a meal or free swag, depending on the amount of engagement from each player. Contests often use a variety of approaches to winning points, from the aforementioned “liking” and “sharing” to cross-platform promotion or direct interaction. You might ask guests to submit videos or share a story to win more entries to win. Keep in mind that the higher the ask, the greater the prize needs to be, so gauge accordingly.
Video games have been around since 1958, becoming widely available in the late-1970s. With the success of games like Pong and later Pac-Man, video games famously became a mainstay in arcades, but also pizza parlors and bars. Building on those earlier family-friendly models, many modern gastropubs are designed with video games in mind, specifically an audience looking for good food, libations, and post-meal activities.
Gaming enthusiasts can satisfy all their cravings here. In-house gaming offers guests the opportunity to convene and nurse drinks or apps throughout the day. You can develop tournaments or other gaming-related competitions to drive this customer traffic. This strategy brings guests back for more, but what do you do when you can’t (literally) have people on-premise?
With the world turned on its head, everyone has had to struggle to stay afloat. Just staying in business is a new challenge, let alone innovating to attract guests. Fortunately, the gaming community often centers around stay-at-home, socially-distanced events. Imagine hosting small, online video gaming events that require the purchase of a ticket to play. Offer a meal deal built around one or more popular dishes on your menu that gives customers entry into your virtual realm.
While it may seem like a lot of work to host a video game competition, remember that you can keep things simple. You can find a game, preferably something popular or with a community, and invite people in at a particular time. Look for games that offer front-loaded virtual spaces or that let you curate your guests. Depending on interest, you might use simple tools to keep tabs on who’s coming and going, like a Google Spreadsheet. Make sure you establish any rules and your prize upfront, like a dinner at your restaurant.
Often found in coffee shops or gastropubs around the world, board games are a great way to pull customers in and earn big. In-person gaming is a simple task, and easily accomplished; have plenty of games on site, clean them and keep all the pieces together (missing pieces ruin the fun). For on-premise dining, minimize anything that might come into contact with people. If possible, skew toward games with washable plastic pieces like chess, checkers, or Connect Four.
Off-premise board gaming may be a bit more tricky, as it likely requires a minimum of three players: a host to facilitate the game, and two competitors. In this case, you might look for games that have an extended strategy element, and incorporate multiple players. Again, bundle any virtual spaces off with menu items; you dine out to play in.
Pen and Paper Role-Playing
Role-playing games (RPGs) have earned the hearts of many fans, popularized in shows like Stranger Things or by celebrities like Vin Diesel. The beauty of RPGs is that they can be played in real life with a pen, paper, and imagination, or via digital means. Some indie businesses host regular games with players, taking them on imaginary adventures and serving up the requisite mead and leg of lamb for their quests.
Because of the gameplay involved, transforming these daring tales into the virtual world is an easily-manageable feat. As with off-site gaming, offer exclusive deals that bundle menu items with virtual room codes.
Trivia Nights Go Virtual
Trivia Nights are perhaps the easiest way to do any virtual gaming. It may not be a unique idea, but there’s a reason that trivia nights have become a smashing success for restaurants. Many restaurateurs have reported huge gains on slow nights from trivia nights for a few reasons:
- There are many great resources available to run a trivia game.
- Trivia games bring in multiple players.
- Customers love trivia nights!
Setting up a game is easy enough, but here’s a little food for thought. Establish your rules and the prize before the game. Consider theming your trivia nights to match or distract from the times. As always, tie your virtual trivia in with some meal or drink item. Since many restaurants can now deliver alcoholic beverages, consider a relevant drink special to incentivize purchases.
Pub games have a long and storied history that in the past has skewed toward the inadvisable. Still, these types of in-store games have persisted well into the 21st century, with traditional games ranging from darts or cards to more conventional pastimes like cornhole. Some enterprising restaurants and bars have even offered novelty sporting events like ax throwing or archery. Above all, make sure that safety is first. For any off-premise or virtual experience, consider hosting visual competitions where guests can upload videos to your social media platform.
The Hidden Restaurant
Hidden restaurants offer a different experience: finding the restaurant is the game. This game may not be something you plan overnight, but you can always utilize pop-up stores or food truck deliveries to mystery locations that only players “in the know” might want. In a post-pandemic society, this will be much easier to pull off with safety in mind. Until then, consider offering prizes to contestants with novel delivery locations; flip the script on your guests by having them provide an unusual location. Just not too unusual, of course.
Restaurateurs likely got into the restaurant business for the food and community above all else. Modern problems require modern solutions, and gaming has a proven track record of paying off. In the simplest possible terms: games are big business. Gaming oriented restaurants have continued to pop up for years, offering a way to bring in new customers and instill loyalty in your existing base. If you’re open to in-house traffic, stay safe, and mindful of your clientele. If not, consider virtual gaming to build the community that you may not be able to build in-house, paving a fun path from our current struggles to a better tomorrow.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.