Jenkins called it a “year of meaningful progress.” What’s changed? To start, Dave & Buster’s took several key steps toward carving out its own niche again. The most recognizable of these changes is the virtual reality platform that will add its fourth proprietary title—based on the upcoming Men in Black movie—in Q2 of 2019. “Our ability to efficiently execute such a large-scale national rollout is unmatched in the industry,” Jenkins said. That’s where Dave & Buster’s and its 125 units can still overwhelm the rising pack. Many of its competitors still identify as emerging, like Punch Bowl Social, just named No. 10 on data firm Fishbowl’s annual list of up-and-coming brands, Pinstripes, Tom’s Urban, and others.
A good example of this is what’s happening with Dave & Buster’s food program. In February, the chain cut back 15 percent of its items. That on top of a 20 percent reduction implemented a year ago. There are now about 40 total options and more than 20 handcrafted cocktails. It’s a significant change, and one Jenkins said allowed the brand to simplify operations, improve execution, and shine a serious light on quality.
Beyond just sourcing better ingredients, Dave & Buster’s has an entirely new food mantra, “Crafting Craveability.” And it dove head first into the idea. Over the past year, Dave & Buster’s has replaced or recrafted roughly 75 percent of its menu. It’s a staggering figure for a 12-month run.
When Dave & Buster’s launched a new menu in February it put the emphasis on premium. Choice steaks were added following a chicken and burger upgrade from last year. The brand then rebranded and upgraded some classics. The Super Stack Burger replaced Dave’s Double Cheeseburger and Tuscan Chicken Alfredo took over for Parmesan Chicken Alfredo.
Additionally, Dave & Buster’s brought some healthier offerings into the mix, like the Simply Grilled Chicken with Zoodles. Pressed juices and purees were tossed in systemwide to improve mixed drinks, too.
Jenkins said the changes are going to take some time to land from an awareness standpoint. Mainly because food and beverage are not Dave & Buster’s primary driver of guest visitations, and that likely won’t change. Still, the chain is working on its messaging and quality callouts on menus. And, over time, plans to feature food more prominently in marketing campaigns, Jenkins said.
The brand even recently launched a fast-casual tacos concept in Dallas that focuses on street foods. Jenkins said Tuesday the pilot was designed to really gauge the potential demand for a more convenient and accessible food option at Dave & Buster’s. So far, it’s been well received by those who have experienced it, he said. However, initial demand has not been as strong as anticipated. Dave & Buster’s is working to improve in-store awareness and utilization, he added.