What made the comeback even more difficult is that Punch Bowl spans the entire country, with locations from Portland, Oregon, to Arlington, Virginia. Flaherty and Cornog had to be extra cognizant of market-by-market considerations, so they put leaders in every trade area and reviewed municipality changes in real-time.
“It was significant,” Cornog says. “And it was a daily challenge to make sure that we were providing the spaces in a way that you met what municipalities were asking for in a safe manner for both our guests and our team members. And so that was really important to us. But since Punch Bowl has been around, we've executed restaurants across the country from the beginning, So spanning geography for us is just something we do on a daily basis.”
The brand’s biggest innovation was finding better uses for the large square footage. Cornog and Flaherty knew Punch Bowl was about uniqueness and guests customizing their experience, whether it’s bowling, karaoke, or simply getting drinks with friends. Through that lens, the company created PBS Joints in which a piece of square footage is carved out for another concept.
For example, in November the Rancho Cucamonga, California, location opened the Agave Room—a 90-seat mezcal and tequila lounge with authentic Mexican cuisine. Punch Bowl enlisted award-winning mixologist Lauren Paylor O’Brien to create the cocktail menu. The concept-within-a-concept also features a 100-bottle collection of agave-based spirits. Then, in Arlington, Punch Bowl launched the Record Room, a 2,500-square-foot downstairs space that gives off a 70s vibe. Several more PBS Joints will come within the next year. Each will have a theme, intimate seating options, and upscale menus.
To improve operations even further, Punch Bowl is exploring technology in terms of games and guest-facing tools. The chain is testing some of those opportunities and plans to move forward with them in the next 12-16 months.
Cornog says 2022 was a “really good year for Punch Bowl.” It started tough with the Omicron hangover, but by December, business looked similar to 2019 figures. Locations are reeling in thousands of customers, and the holiday season was strong.
“If 2021 was just about getting the business up and running, 2022 was really about re-engaging with our guests, reminding them of why they enjoyed Punch Bowl Social previously, and introducing ourselves to that new group of consumers,” Cornog says.
Other than continually building the existing business, the goal for 2023 is to open one new unit, although the company isn’t ready to share where it will be yet. The idea is to debut a few more in 2024 and an even larger amount in 2025. Although other eatertainment chains, like Dave & Buster’s, are searching for smaller real estate because of rising construction costs, Punch Bowl Social will stick with its 20,000 to 30,000-square-foot range so it provides all the choices customers have come to expect.
“Behind the scenes, we love the challenge and look forward to developing the team and the talent that quite honestly makes all of that happen. And when you ask about big-picture objectives for the year, I would be remiss if I didn't answer—make more money than we ever have in the past,” Flaherty says.