When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, the restaurant industry was hit hard. Eatertainment chains—relying heavily on foot traffic—suffered as much as anyone.
Just how bad was it? Dave & Buster's, one of the biggest players in the segment, was swallowed with concerns of layoffs and bankruptcy. Sales declines surpassed 80 percent in the early going.
No one quite knew what to make of these concepts or how'd they make it through. What the past two-and-a-half years have shown is remarkable resiliency and pent-up demand from consumers desperately wanting social interaction. Here are 10 entertainment brands looking to grow in the coming years after finding newfound momentum.
A social dining experience, Oche combines darts with fine dining. Scoring is automated with video-tracking technology and algorithms, freeing guests from keeping track of who is winning the game.
Troy Warfield, former president of Topgolf, is the CEO. He described the experience as “gastro gaming” due to menus created by Michelin-starred chefs that are unique to each location.
“We are a technology business in hospitality, and we are here to create shared happiness for our guests,” said Warfield.
The brand has four units in Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, and Sweden, and is planning expansion into North America through franchising. The success of Oche in these varying markets makes company leaders confident in their decision to enter the U.S. market.
“My ambition would be that we translate a lot of conversations into some multi-unit franchise contracts and we can start seeing some venues open in the U.S. this year,” Warfield said.
An entertainment center marketed toward kids and families, Main Event touts bowling and arcade games for guests. The company was recently purchased for $835 million by Dave & Buster’s, a similar food and entertainment concept geared more toward young adults.
As is true of many hybrid entertainment and restaurant brands, the company has been doing well. Main Event’s same-store sales rose 27 percent in Q2 when compared to 2019. Looking at net revenue, the chain experienced a CAGR of 20 percent between 2015-2019, growing from $144 million and 20 locations to $297 million and 42 stores. In the wake of COVID’s impact, numbers have recovered—and then a lot more—to $422 million and 51 outlets in the 12 months ending in May. Adjusted EBITDA stands at $104 million, compared to $53 million in fiscal 2019.
Main Event has a roughly 50,000-square-foot model, and is targeting six to eight openings in the following year to year and a half.
Pickleball is the star of Chicken N Pickle, a social entertainment concept founded in 2016 that operates both inside and outside. The brand has a chef-driven restaurant and yard games and is currently at six locations, with three others announced and in development. It created a new prototype in hopes of growing its unit count to 20 in the next two years.
Chicken N Pickle partnered with design firm Populous, which has been known to design stadiums in the past, to brainstorm a new venue inspired by a town square and the brand’s “farmstead roots.”
“Populous, a firm known for its expertise in bringing people together around sport and entertainment, has perfectly captured our essence and our ambition in a brand and design standard that will contribute positively to every community we serve,” said CEO Bill Crooks.
First opening in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2018, Smash Park is a social pickleball-themed concept combing dining with an accessible sport guests can enjoy. The initial location in Des Moines contains four pickleball courts inside and two outside, with additional offerings like house party games and an arcade.
Smash Park also has a food and drink menu crafted by Todd Lindberg, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. The menu has high quality shareables, burgers, flatbreads, and more. There are also drink offerings, their most popular being Sociabowls (cocktails served in fishbowls).
The second location opened in May in Pella, Iowa. The brand also has a location in Minneapolis which will start construction this year, and a fourth in Omaha, Nebraska, which is set to open late in 2023 or early in the next year.
As a place for golf and dining, Five Iron Golf wants to create an environment where people can both play the game casually and have serious lessons.
“As we see it, if you're going to have a golf lesson next to someone eating a quesadilla, the golf lesson has to be a really good golf lesson and the quesadilla better be a good quesadilla,” Jared Solomon, CEO of Five Iron Golf, said.
The brand touts 3D golf lessons, showers, and towel service for those more serious about the game, while casual players can enjoy food menus, full bars, event space, and other games like ping pong and pool.
“When we say Five Irons is for everyone, we really mean that golf has historically been exclusive and has a borderline sexist and racist history, and really, we're trying to make it inclusive and not sort of pinpoint who can golf and who can’t,” Solomon said.
The brand has more than a dozen locations in major cities like New York City, Las Vegas, and Chicago, including one international location in Singapore. Five Iron also plans to open in Boston, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Set to open in Atlanta on October 12, Your 3rd Spot is a gaming and dining centered concept that is inspired by the concept of having a “third place” after home and work. The concept will merge the concepts of a restaurant, bar, and social club.
“Our goal is really all about making connections and building community,” said Doug Warner, co-founder and chief innovation officer.
Your 3rd spot is most notably driven by technology, with an app that shows guests other people in the building that they might click with based on personality or what game they want to play. In addition, the app allows for ordering of food and drinks and choice of many games to play—including board games, darts, bowling, and curling played on synthetic ice. The space also has video games and a cornhole arena.
A social venue with games, live entertainment, and food and drinks crafted by chefs and mixologists, THRōW Social is a concept created by Ginger Flesher-Sonnier. Sonnier is a former high school math teacher, and now owns many concepts in the eatertainment category.
THRōW Social has locations in Washington, D.C. and Delray Beach, Florida. The Delray beach location is open to kids and families during the day, then shifts to a 21+ space beginning at 9 p.m. The location also boasts cabanas, DJs and live bands, axe-throwing, ping pong, and more.
The Delray Beach location opened in February 2022 and exceeds $1 million in revenues monthly. The location’s success led Sonnier to look at other locations in Florida to open more.
A mini golf experience with food and drinks selection, Puttshack first began in London but has now expanded into the U.S. The brand opened the first two locations in the U.S. in 2021 in Atlanta and Chicago, and have continued to perform well.
New locations of the brand will open this summer in Boston and Miami followed by Dallas, Denver, Houston, Nashville, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and a second location in Atlanta.
Chris Rockwood, who has previously held executive positions with Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, and Roy’s Restaurants, has joined Puttshack as the U.S. chief operating officer.
“I’m thrilled to join the Puttshack team, leveraging technology to drive the guest experience and create dynamic, diverse, amazing work environments for our associates,” adds Rockwood.
Upscale entertainment concept 810 Billiards & Bowling is a six-unit company that offers bowling and other games like billiards and table tennis, as well as food and beverage options.
The company recently welcomed new chief operating officer Wayne Stancil, who spent almost five years at Main Event, growing the brand from 12 to 41 locations. Stancil wants to continue that growth mindset at 810 Billiards & Bowling.
“The beauty of what we offer, whether it’s couples on a date night, coworkers after work, millennials and their kids or just business professionals who want to let their hair down and unwind—we offer a lot for everyone,” Stancil said.
The brand offers a menu with Angus steak burgers and fresh pizza dough, differentiating themselves from entertainment venues that only offer snack options.
“Elevating the food and beverage offerings allows customers to satisfy that quest, and they can immediately go to shoot pool, bowl, play some arcade games or shoot darts. You’re not in a box,” Stancil said.
Running luxury cinema and entertainment centers, Cinergy Entertainment Group has nine locations in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Illinois. Its 10th location is coming soon to Greenville, South Carolina.
The entertainment centers are “recline-and-dine” cinemas with a menu of food offerings and alcoholic beverages. Some locations include other amenities such as bowling, axe throwing, laser tag, escape rooms, virtual reality, and ropes courses with zip lines.
Cinergy was crowned Top Family Entertainment Center of the World in 2019 by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).