As a result, he hired Hugh Acheson, a chef and former “Top Chef” judge as a culinary partner. Thompson describes the menu as Southern influenced and says chicken and waffles is one specialty. The menu also offers huevos rancheros, Greek yogurt, and burgers. “Everything is made in house, from scratch,” Thompson says.
He named the concept Punch Bowl Social as homage to the Victorian age when people in the community gathered to discuss local matters around a punch bowl. While Facebook and Instagram enable people to converse online, Punch Bowl Social encourages them to do so face-to-face while dining and playing a game.
Indeed one Yelp responder described Punch Bowl Social as “a large space reminiscent of the games one would have at a cool parents’ basement circa early 1990: ping pong, air hockey, a few bowling lanes, and Skee-Ball. There was plenty of seating areas around bars, cocktail tables nearby and lounge sofas. If you wanted to do more than drink and play, there’s a restaurant right when you enter.”
Capitalizing the first outlet after the economic recession around 2010 was “mission impossible,” Thompson says.
“After the Great Recession, money was loosening up, but not for restaurants,” he adds. Most investors perceived them as too risky. Because restaurant sales are based on disposable income, many investors demurred. Based on his industry connections from running six eateries at Cocktails Concept, including Buffalo Billiards & Havana Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee, enterprising Thompson raised a whopping $4 million to finance the initial outpost.
Running that Nashville billiards lounge served as a precursor to opening Punch Bowl Social. He saw how games and food could mix, but wanted to extend the concept further.
Asked what demographic the chain targets, Thompson doesn’t equivocate but says flatly, “millennials day and night.” Yet he added that other generations, including Gen Z, follow the millennials like older siblings, and to a certain extent, Baby Boomers will investigate it.
Punch Bowl Social creates several revenue streams including food, beverage, and games. For example, it charges $7.50 and $11.50 per hour for bowling, $13 hourly for ping-pong, $10 for billiards and bocci, $10 for scrabble, $25 to $35 for karaoke, and $35 to $55 for virtual reality. Some activities are free such as darts, marbles, and board games.
But overall, Thompson explained that food and beverage accounts for 89 percent of its revenue and the gaming fees 11 percent. He calls the games the “cheese in the mousetrap” that lures customers in. It makes it experiential, which is what millennials are seeking.
And Thompson notes there’s one more revenue stream that often gets overlooked: corporate and social events. Because many of the outlets are spacious, ranging from 20,000–30,000 square feet, there’s plenty of room to hold team building events for corporations, birthday parties, often for tweens, and bachelor and bachelorette parties for millennials. About 25 percent of its aggregate food and beverage sales stems from this source.
Thompson decided to introduce virtual reality parlors because it’s now social fitting into its dominant theme. “Each VR bazaar has a TV where the group can watch what their friend in the headset is experiencing,” he says.
Its growth plans have been strengthened by an investment from L Catterton, a private equity firm, which helped capitalize chains such as P. F. Chang’s, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, and Chopt Creative Salad Company.