Ryan says customers will come in, if they’re looking to get lubricated before an event, for beer that’s running $45–$50 a gallon instead of the $160 you’re likely to see inside an arena. “You can come in a half hour before hand, order a 40-ounce beer, and you’re going to get taken care of,” Ryan says.
The same strategy applies to cocktails, with Tom’s Size options offering basically triple the amount of a regular drink. This caters to guests who only want to wait in line once on a busy night.
“The bottom line is that between operating platform and really thinking through the logistics and occasions of how people need and want alcohol prior to an event—that set up our menu design, our bar service design, and how we handle density and urgency better than anybody else,” Ryan says.
And if you’re not in a rush? That’s where the rest of Tom’s Urban’s differentiators come into play.
The four-wall experience turned up
“We are in the millennial age where experiences count more than transactions,” Ryan says.
He adds that the industry appears to be mired in the “last generation of sports bars.” But with any shift, there’s always opportunity. The way Ryan puts it: At most sports bars, you could convince your wife or girlfriend to go with you twice. “We think there’s a huge opportunity around this sea of change,” he says. “If you can match up a modern, contemporary approach to a sports-and-entertainment venue with a millennial tonal focus around food and drink and the rest of that experience; if you couple that with what else matters in the real world, which is the mindset that people are looking for a story—you’ll have something.”
“One of our basic tenets is that, in general, people have a really hard time discovering totally new things,” Ryan adds. “What Tom’s Urban is doing is reimagining what a modern sports bar should be. And that behavior is not something people have to learn. Every noun in our portfolio and narrative is well understood by consumers.”
Tom’s Urban starts by offering a menu that satisfies everyone from the traditional hockey jock looking for burgers and wings to somebody hoping for something highly differentiated. Xiangxiang Crispy Duck Wings for example, or the Big Ass Egg Roll, which presents exactly as it sounds, with Adobo chicken, rice, shredded and seasoned vegetables, peanut sauce, cilantro, lime, green onions, and an Asian glaze.
Entertainment wise, Tom’s Urban’s puts eclectic videos (those not showing events) on screens and plays modern and vintage music that “we find to be highly entertaining to modern customers,” Ryan says. Like bringing MTV back, for instance. And then the element of interactive screens, where guests can play off one another and keep the conversation flowing.
There are also moments inside the restaurant that make it feel like an event itself. At halftimes, between hockey periods, seventh-inning stretches in baseball, etc., Tom’s Urban will host mini-contests. One example: Guests hoist (not drink) 40-ounce beers for as long as they can to see who can outlast the field. “We really want to trigger the notion that if you’re going to go watch a game this is the place you want to go beforehand,” Ryan says.
At the same time, “if you’re going for a watch event, whether it’s by yourself, with a date, a couple of friends, or organized, we want to provide people with the most tailored added-value experience around food, drink, and entertainment we can,” he adds.
Tom’s Urban designs locations to satisfy multiple occasions. Guests can sit at the bar. High tops. Booths. There’s also what the chain calls “bottle rooms,” which are small, private sections. There are still screens but the volume is lowered so a couple could still chat while watching a game.
What the future looks like
In September, Tom’s Urban appointed Shannon McNiel president and chief operating officer. He most recently served as a market partner with Texas Roadhouse and previously held an executive leadership role at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. During his time at Darden, McNiel worked operational roles at Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse as well.
Ryan says McNiel’s hiring helped set define culture throughout the organization. It also allowed Tom’s Urban to reengineer its P&L and develop proper infrastructure to expand.
Ryan says Tom’s Urban’s main focus currently is its current asset base. But growth is in the works. The brand is looking at airports. Entertainment centers. Casinos. Anywhere where it’s ability to handle surge capacity can pay off for both parties.
Ryan says Tom’s Urban is mining “multiple opportunities.” He can see one to two new locations opening in 2019 and then a pipeline of two to four per year, maybe more, after that. “We don’t mark the number and then build against that. We find the sites,” he says.
In early January, Tom’s Urban bolstered its leadership team even further. It named Jane Crouse director of training and development; Lori Belloir director of design and communication; and Joanna Sanchez vice president of national event sales.
Crouse, like McNiel, came from Texas Roadhouse, where she won the steakhouse chain’s service manager and kitchen manager of the year awards in consecutive years. Her most recent role was corporate training and development coach for 160 locations.
“Tom’s Urban has a truly unique edge in today’s eatertainment space offering our guests a memorable experience with our innovative menu, extensive drink offerings and immersive entertainment options. Joanna, Jane, and Lori will play a vital role in strengthening our team to help us achieve our short- and long-term strategic growth objectives,” McNiel said in a statement.