Embrace eatertainment - or clone a dinosaur

Eatertainment is the 500-pound gorilla in the success formula for today's location-based entertainment facilities - but much of the LBE industry has yet to embrace high-quality food and beverage. Find out why White Hutchinson has long promoted eatertainment as the key to LBE and FEC survival. 

We continue to be amazed how most of the location-based entertainment industry doesn't get it. They keep cloning dinosaurs by thinking the formula is entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. When it comes to food, they still talk about snack bars, concession stands or even vending machines.

We took a look at seminars the International Association of Leisure & Entertainment Industry (IALEI) scheduled at this past September's FunExpo and found that of 33 seminars, only two were about food and beverage, and one of those was on vending machines. Only 6% of the seminars focused on food and beverage. Definitely sends the signal that IALEI and FunExpo, sources the industry look to for education, are still stuck in the paradigm of not considering food and beverage very important to success.

Well, do they have it wrong! As any regular reader of this eNewsletter knows, we have been trying to wake up the industry to understand what it takes in today's world to have a successful, profitable location-based leisure venue. Notice we didn't use the word "entertainment." That's because our company's industry research shows that with rare exceptions, an entertainment focus doesn't work. What works is a leisure experience that combinations entertainment and food and beverage. This is called eatertainment or restaurant-entertainment. We define eatertainment as the combination of destination dining with entertainment or edutainment, with food and beverage representing between 40% and 70% of total revenues.

History has demonstrated the eatertainment formula is not only successful, but has legs. Peter Piper Pizza is 34 years old with 135+ stores. Chuck E. Cheese's, with 520+ units, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Dave & Buster's has been churning out profits for 28 years.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts' division Disney Regional Entertainment owns and operates nine ESPN Zones.  Bowling lounges, such as Lucky Strike, are rapidly spreading throughout the country. All these concepts depend on a blend of food and beverage and entertainment, neither of which dominates.

Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Chuck E. Cheese's, continues to get it. His newest adult concept, uWink, focuses on food and beverage and games, not much different than his Chuck E. Cheese's formula, other than the target market. You don't have to teach that old dog new tricks (sorry Nolan, no offense). He knows what works. (See separate story below on uWink for more.)

Even some of the original entertainment-focused companies have finally figured it out. GameWorks struggled for years with a predominately gameroom concept. Its new owner, Sega Entertainment U.S.A. Inc. (SEUI), is now ratcheting up the food and beverage format with its new World Sports Grille concept. The new concept will have 15,000 square feet of dining space and 5,000 square feet dedicated to games (notice the food focus). Five existing GameWorks incorporate Arena Sports Bar & Grills with food and beverage sales representing 50% of total revenues. The new World Sports Grille is expected to eventually be incorporated in all the facilities and generate even higher per capita dining tabs than Arena Sports Bar & Grills, which is around $12.75.

Next year SEUI will roll out a new dining-and-entertainment brand designed specifically for families with young children. The new concept is reported to offer a more adult-friendly menu than Chuck E. Cheese's (watch out, Mr. Chuck E!). 

Ben Kitay, SEUI's president, said the goal of its strategic changes is to better position the Sega brands as dining destinations, not just places to play games.
"We determined our stake in casual dining was not sharp enough," Kitay said. "We needed to elevate the dining experience, let more people know about it, and deliver unmatched quality and guest service."

Even the 100+-year-old cinema industry, in partial response to falling its falling attendance of 1.6 billion in 2002 to 1.45 billion in 2006, is moving in the direction of making food and beverage a destination driver rather than just an impulse purchase at the popcorn and candy counter. Several new movie-eatery concepts have opened in the past few years, indicating consumers are shifting their entertainment spending on cinemas to first-run movies accompanied by pizza, burgers, steaks and cocktails.

The nine-unit Movie Tavern opened its first dine-in theater complex in 2001 in Fort Worth, Texas. Jeffrey Benson, president and chief executive of the Movie Tavern chain, said, "We think it's the future of the movie business. For as long as there have been movies, people have talked about dinner and a movie." When it comes to Movie Tavern's food and beverage offerings, Benson said, "It's very much a casual-dining type menu. There are 63 items plus desserts, including steaks, pasta, egg rolls and pizzas. It's a very much down-the-middle, casual-dining menu." Benson indicates meal tabs generally run $10 to $15 per person.

Movie Tavern offers a dinner and a movie experience.

Another growing chain, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, operates eight restaurant-cinemas. Studio Movie Grill has five dining-cinemas. Brian Schultz, founder and co-owner of Studio Movie Grill, says this about their concept, "We're trying to provide an upscale, comfortable, inviting environment where you can come relax and get a meal and a great film all wrapped up in a 2-and-a-half-hour period."

Regal Entertainment Group, operator of Regal, United Artist and Edwards cinema chains, has formed a joint-venture to open Cinnebarre cinema-restaurants. The first 31,000 square foot unit debuted in Ashville, North Caroline at Biltmore Square Mall in July. There are plans to roll out about ten move in the next three years. Cobb Theatres has partnered with Taubman Centers, Inc., one of the country's largest mall and shopping center development and management companies, to open a dining-theatre venue at Dolphin Mall in Miami, Florida. The 20,000-square-foot unit will have five digital screens with a tapas-style in-theatre menu, with wine and cocktails. National Amusements, Inc., operators of 1,500 movie screens worldwide, is planning to open Cinema de Lux locations with in-theatre food service and an attached Chatters Bar & Grill restaurant.

IPic Entertainment is planning a different take on dinner and a movie with a single venue that combines upscale cinemas, a high-end restaurant and lounge, and other types of entertainment. The approach is to offer a one-stop destination for a night on the town.

The first IPic will be 38,000 square feet and is under construction at Bayshore Town Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The six theaters will have 6-foot-wide love seats, digital projection and no pre-show advertisements. Tickets, expected to cost $15 to $16 for evening shows, will include popcorn and valet parking. All moviegoers will get an assigned seat, and after 6 p.m., all guests must be 21 or older.

CEO Hamid Hashemi said, "Think of this [IPic] as a country club environment where you will see and be seen and go to socialize, make new friends and see old ones."

IPic plans to offer a one-stop destination for a night on the town.

The entertainment complex will include a 200-seat Ovations restaurant offering what IPic calls "casual chic dining," a 120-seat Sequel bar, a nightclub-style Pinstrikes bowling center with 11 lanes and live performances.

The fastest growing eatertainment concept focused on the family market is the big box, family pizza buffet-entertainment mega-centers that first surfaced 20 years ago. There has been a rapid expansion of this industry segment in the past few years. John's Incredible Pizza Co. has been successfully operating units in California for 10 years and continues to expand with new stores.  American's Incredible Pizza Co. is rapidly expanding its franchise stores, and other single operators and chains continue to appear. It's no wonder, as this form of eatertainment generates sales per square foot at multiples of what's produced by traditional entertainment-oriented indoor family entertainment centers (FECs).

White Hutchinson has been very active with the development and design of family pizza buffet-entertainment centers, sometimes called pizza buffet FECs or family buffet-entertainment centers (FBEC). The first FBEC we designed and produced was StoneFire Pizza Co. in the Milwaukee area. The first FBEC designed to target the upscale white-collar family market, it introduced many new concepts to the FBEC industry, including stone-hearth ovens, Asian wok stations and a discovery play dining room. The store has enjoyed phenomenal success, with lines of families waiting to get in sometimes stretched hundreds of feet along the front of the building in the winter. If families are willing to wait outside in the Milwaukee winter, you know the experience inside has to be good.

StoneFire Pizza Co. in New Berlin, Wisconsin

We are now designing the second StoneFire Pizza Co. that will be 53,000 square feet, located in Kenosha, Wisconsin, midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. The unit will incorporate a number of innovations and firsts for FBECs (sorry, but we need to keep details confidential until the facility opens). We are also working for clients developing other FBECs in Kansas City, Missouri, an upper Midwest metropolitan area and the Middle East. 

StoneFire Pizza Co. #2 under development in Kenosha, Wisconsin