While the pandemic drastically altered operations for quick-service, casual, and fine-dining concepts, it upturned the world of eatertainment. Stay-at-home orders left those large venues dark with little business in the to-go and delivery space that was critical in keeping other restaurants afloat.
Now, experts believe eatertainment—a category defined by its combination of restaurant dining and games—is uniquely poised for a big rebound in the recovery from the pandemic, whenever that may occur. People are craving social connections and hands-on experiences—particularly ones out of the house. And many yearn to do more than just go out for a meal; after all, consumers kept frequenting restaurants throughout the pandemic, even if they never sat down inside for a meal.
“What they’re missing is the opportunity to go out and have fun,” says Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of the New England Consulting Group. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand, pent-up energy. So, they are better positioned to come out of this at a position of strength.”
Still, Stibel says those brands, whether they specialize in golf, bowling, or arcade games, should go on the offensive with marketing and special promotions. That will help pull consumer attention back to those concepts and allow the venues to communicate the ways they are putting health and safety front and center.
“They’ve got to go out of their way to market to the kid in all of us, whether it’s the 35-year-old who wants to get back in a miniature racing car, the 18-year-old that wants to collect tokens at a Dave & Busters, or a 12-year-old that wants to have a real birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese,” Stibel says.
Consumers flocked to outdoor venues, particularly in the months before coronavirus vaccines were widely available. Golf may have become more popular than ever, a phenomenon that spilled over into putt-putt courses and technology-driven concepts like Topgolf and BigShots. But Stibel warns these operations shouldn’t take their pandemic surges for granted.
“If they lock in their newfound guests with loyalty programs, promotions, and events, they will be as good as gold,” he says. “Because COVID did what their own marketing failed to do: It put people into their venues. If they aren’t capitalizing on that with loyalty events and follow-up promotions, then shame on them.”
When Your 3rd Spot opens its first location in the second quarter of this year, founder Joshua Rossmeisl is optimistic the pandemic will be more controlled. But whatever the landscape, it will open in an era where operators know how to keep the doors open and ensure guest safety, he says.
This approach allows his brand to make safety changes upfront rather than trying to retrofit existing spaces like many restaurants did over the last two years.