At Añejo, Pokémon Go users can expect to find a friendly staff more than willing to play along.

Full-Service Restaurants Level Up Sales, Foot Traffic with Pokémon Go

The digital craze represents a real opportunity for operators to boost business.

James Horn has watched New York City residents walk into his restaurant and, moments later, head right back out the door.

They weren’t here for a cocktail. They came for the Charmander.

In mid-July, information technology company SimilarWeb reported that Pokémon Go surpassed Twitter in daily active users, eclipsed Facebook in engagement, and was far more popular than Netflix. So while there’s something comical and easily dismissible about a virtual cartoon character showing up on a restaurant tabletop, Horn, the director of operations at Añejo, advises fellow operators to ignore the mobile app at their own peril.

“We embrace it,” says Horn, who directs the concept’s Tribeca and Hell’s Kitchen restaurants. “It would be silly for us not to. I understand that some restaurant owners and groups will turn up their nose to that, but to me it’s just ignorant. Why not embrace it if it’s going to bring people into your business?”

Even in the earlier example, where guests don’t actually order anything off the menu, Horn sees tangible value. Mainly, the brief experience could lead to future visits. But also, being seen as a safe haven for Pokémon Go users is a rather valuable distinction these days, especially in foot-traffic friendly meccas like the Big Apple. “If we can help attract maybe 50 people a day, and five of those come in to eat, that’s five more people than we had coming in before,” Horn explains.

The iPad POS solution Revel Systems pulled data from its users in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, and came up with the following metrics: 82 percent of Revel businesses with Pokestops nearby increased weekly foot traffic, and 63 percent saw an increase in weekly gross sales.

Restaurants can court this boon. Horn jumped on the virtual bandwagon the week it debuted. He spoke with a partner and drafted a strategy. Firstly, he signed up online, bought some in-game coins, purchased lures, incenses, and read up on the best ways to bolster Pokémon Go interaction. Additionally, Horn brought his managers into the mix so they could pass along the plan to servers and join in themselves.

Right away, it offered the restaurant’s staff common ground with a very large and rapidly expanding pool of customers. They’ve discounted checks to balance out the purchase of incense, which last 30 minutes and draw the Pokémon to the user. Often times, the managers will place down a lure to attract hordes of players.

“I told them, we are now playing Pokémon while we work,” Horn recalls. “You can buy Pokémon coins and send me your receipts and we’ll pay you back. I think for them, that makes their job more fun. Our managers know how to play and it gets them more in touch with the people coming in and helps them develop more of a rapport with our guests and a common interest, and not just an, ‘Oh, what’s that stupid game you’re playing?’ They have fun with it. We pay $10 a day to see the effects of this.”

As Horn mentioned, the investment is minimal. Lures and other in-game purchases might tally up to a single appetizer or a drink per day. As studies have shown, a good review on sites like Yelp, OpenTable or TripAdvisor are worth significantly more.

“If it was something like, ‘Hey, I had a great meal, but it’s also near Pokémon stops, or they’re Pokémon friendly, maybe that will roll into more people like that coming in. But again, the quantifiable data in return for our investment on these little things is tough, because everyone in the whole city is playing.”

Because the entire population of New York seems to be involved, he notes, there’s added danger is sitting on the sidelines. Especially in the case of full-service operators, Horn says it’s best to just lighten up and ride the momentum.

“People put on their menus, even before Pokémon, things like ‘No cell phones allowed. No picture taking.’ Who do you think you are? Those days are over in New York. Everything is so competitive. If you tell people to put their cell phone away you might as well tell them to leave.”

“For me, it’s the same thing as Instagram,” he continues. “They’re taking a picture of my bar but now there happens to be a cartoon in it. That can only be a good thing.”

Daniel Black, the CEO and founder of Glass-Media, a marketing technology company, believes Pokémon Go allows operators to reach their customers on a new level.

“The Pokémon Go craze is forcing consumers to branch out from their normal routines, and is seemingly driving sales and consumer visits. Restaurants with a Pikachu on their patios will bring in more new customers than those that don’t, especially when it comes to Millennials and younger crowds of consumers with high purchasing power,” he says. “By incorporating Pokémon Go into the restaurant’s experience, for instance activating a lure model at the bar or making their restaurant a Pokestop, full–service restaurants can reap rewards from both modern consumerism and popular culture.”

Here are three tips Black has for restaurants:

Movement is one of the key fundamentals of successful marketing, especially in the storefront. Distracting customers away from their distractions, or in other words, making people look up, whether for Pokémon or at your moving sign, is one of the most effective ways to attract and engage new customers from the street-level.

By displaying signs that reads, “We welcome Pokémon Go player on our patio” some restaurants are seamlessly blending the physical with the digital worlds. Enabling new customers through their doors with the hopes of catching Pokémon with their friends.

Become a “sponsored location.” Many sources have stated that Pokémon Go will start to utilize advertisers in the form of “sponsored locations.” In becoming a sponsored location, brick and mortar retailers will have the opportunity to have rare Pokémon under their roofs which will help drive individuals into their stores who may never have even noticed their storefronts before.

Chop Steak House, located in Chicago’s South Loop, turned its restaurant into a real-life Pokestop with a mural and dedicated rewards.

“We’ve always been big fans of Pokemon and are so excited about the launch of the new app,” says Chop owner Jovanis Bouargoub in a release. “Chop is a popular spot that attracts a lot of players and this was a great way to add an element of fun to the dining and playing experience in a totally unique way.” 

The restaurant and its sister unit, PorkChop, developed incentives for Pokémon Go users. At Chop, a Level 5 player is eligible for a $1 oyster; a Level 15 gets a $1 beer, and Level 25 users appreciate 50 percent off the bill. PorkChip gives a free slider, free appetizer, and $1 beers for the same respective levels.

Horn admits that it is going to be difficult to measure how successful his restaurant’s decision to join the social craze will be. That’s likely true of all operators, regardless of scope, interaction, or location.

“It’s getting people to walk around, explore new neighborhoods, and possibly explore a new restaurant,” he says. “So why not us?”