Food and Games

At Seattle’s Bavarian-themed Rhein Haus, beer, brats, and bocce set the stage for a dining and entertainment experience.
At Seattle’s Bavarian-themed Rhein Haus, beer, brats, and bocce set the stage for a dining and entertainment experience. rhein haus

The restaurantainment genre has grown far beyond arcades and big-screen TVs.

Patrick Lyons was a man with a lot of space. Thirty-two thousand square feet to be exact.

Most restaurant owners might have been daunted, but not Lyons, who had worked his way up the nightclub business and then co-founded and managed more than 70 bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, including a successful foray into fine dining with Sonsie in Boston. When Lyons considered the cavernous 32,000-square-foot space in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay, he decided to combine his dining and nightclub experience to develop a restaurant and entertainment destination inspired by the heyday of bowling.

That was in 2002 and Kings Bowl, an upscale bowling and dining concept with a retro vibe, was the result. This fall Kings Bowl will open an eighth location, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. By year’s end, Kings Bowl will take the concept to Cool Springs, Tennessee, a suburb outside Nashville, and in the summer of 2017 it will open a second Boston location.

Like Kings Bowl, other restaurants-turned-entertainment destinations are gaining traction as diners eat up the concept. With entertainment options like movies, bowling, bocce, and live comedy, restaurants are able to offer patrons a one-stop shop for full-service dining, drinking, and playing.

This is the restaurantainment space Dave & Buster’s originally carved out in 1982 when it opened its first location in Dallas. Today, the concept best known for its video arcade has grown to more than 85 units and anticipates adding four stores each year.

Until recently, the Dave & Buster’s concept has dominated the eating and entertainment arena. But more players are entering the emerging space—and doing so with a sharper focus, defining their brands with clearly articulated themes, boutique experiences, and elevated menu items such as handspun pizzas and craft cocktails. In a hat-tip to bowling-alley operators of the ’60s, many of these restaurants are including the 10-pin game as part of the entertainment offering and reinvigorating the sport with an upscale twist.

“Much thought goes into [our] décor, lighting, music, sound, menu, and ambiance, which is what is needed to create an entertaining food experience,” explains Lyons, who serves as chief executive of Kings Bowl, which bills itself as “The Classy Bowling Joint” and also features old-school games like shuffleboard, skee ball, air hockey, and billiards. Focused on low-tech games that involve personal interaction instead of video games, Kings Bowl also hosts karaoke and trivia nights.

Whether the activity is bowling, bocce, or arcade games, restaurants doubling as entertainment destinations have broad appeal. On weekdays, these locations serve as prime meeting space for group and corporate events. At Kings Bowl, weekday group events can generate as much as 30 percent of total sales for the restaurants, Lyons says.

During weeknights and on weekend afternoons, the venues are popular with families; nightfall brings out a more mature crowd as the restaurants transition to a 21-and-older policy.

Beer, Brats, and Bocce

In Seattle, young and old alike flock to Rhein Haus—an 11,000-square-foot, Bavarian-themed beer hall that specializes in house-made sausages and pretzels.

Rhein Haus does most of its family business on the weekends, thanks in part to its six indoor and outdoor bocce courts. The courts are also a big draw for adult and children’s sports teams.

On weekdays the restaurant doesn’t open until 3 p.m., so in the morning and early afternoon before it opens to the public it focuses exclusively on group meetings and corporate team-building events for local tech giants, such as Amazon and Microsoft.


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