A different brand on the other side
Dave & Buster’s hardly sat idle this past year, despite challenges. One key initiative revolved around establishing a “stronger, differentiated food identity,” COO Margo Manning said.
The brand will emerge with 28 menu items—33 percent fewer than pre-virus—under the label of “Inspired American Kitchen.” For Dave & Busters, it’s the most extensive update in more than a decade.
Locations recently completed the second phase of the menu change, taking offerings from 17 to 22. Completion of the third phase will occur by late May and bring Dave & Buster’s to the final 28-item target.
“We expect our menu to drive an improved guest experience and increased food attachment rate, all aimed toward increasing food and beverage sales,” Manning said.
Alongside, Dave & Buster’s introduced high-speed ovens across the system, which reduced cook times by more than 40 percent on about a third of the menu. It also anticipates installing new kitchen management system upgrades by June, with a goal to create a more seamless flow of food and reduce overall ticket times.
The speed aim make sense. Dave & Buster’s wants guests back on the floor, playing games. It’s what consumers want, too. In the past, the reality inspired things like a fast-casual taco test in Dallas and a roaming cart of options in the arcade.
Dave & Buster’s, to Jenkins’ earlier point, will complement operational improvements with a “comprehensive internal and external marketing strategy,” to tell guests about the new menu and drive trial. Inside restaurants, from the dining room to Dave & Buster’s “Wow Walls” and video screens to its midway, guests will see pictures of new dishes. And they’ll also experience a fresh digital menu that’s easier to navigate.
Externally, Dave & Buster’s plans to navigate the majority of its spend toward digital channels for the first time in brand history. Expect to see social influencers shoulder the message.
Dave & Buster’s continues to test two virtual concepts as well, “Wings Out,” and “Buster’s America’s Kitchen,” which is basically the regular menu under different branding.
Combined with to-go business, the company has seen about $50,000 per store, annualized, from the efforts.
Jenkins said the business has been highly incremental. But compared to some casual-dining peers, it’s not going to move the needle as far. There are 141 locations, not 1,000. And Dave & Buster’s volume heavily mixes toward entertainment. However, this reality also lends credit to the incremental claim. It gets Dave & Buster’s food outside the four walls and to guest who probably would not have had the chain in their consideration set for delivery.
Manning said Dave & Buster’s next step is to evaluate additional ghost concepts and third-party providers beyond DoorDash and Uber Eats, as well as “working to optimize our promotional strategy to fully capture the revenue potential for these concepts.”
The third pillar evolving at Dave & Buster’s concerns an integrated guest experience, which includes updating its service model to give guests more control over their in-store journey. Notably, tablets and a mobile web platform that allow for a contactless order-pay experience. In test stores, Manning said, Dave & Buster’s noticed “encouraging improvement in check turns,” and was also able to expand the size of server sections and reduce staffing levels.
When Dave & Buster’s summer push arrives, there will be six new games in the arcade, from a four-player cooperative Minecraft Dungeons Arcade offering to a new VR attraction and life-size version of Hungry Hungry Hippos.