It's time to kill the FEC Industry (name)

Language frames how we think. Research shows that different languages around the world reflect the cultures they evolved in and their use frames people's thought processes and the way they view the world. You can never truly understand a culture without using its native language. For example, the use of feminine and masculine nouns in French and other languages affects the perception of the real world objects they are attributed to. 

Lera Boroditsky, a psychologist at Stanford University, has been studying language and its effect on how it shapes thought. The effect is powerful enough, she says, that "the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically," not only when they are thinking in order to speak, "but in all manner of cognitive tasks," including basic sensory perception. "Even a small fluke of grammar" - the gender of nouns—"can have an effect on how people think about things in the world," she says.

One of many examples Boroditsky gives is that in English we say "she broke the bowl" even if it smashed accidentally (she dropped something on it, say). Spanish and Japanese describe the same event more like "the bowl broke itself." "When we show people video of the same event," says Boroditsky, "English speakers remember who was to blame even in an accident, but Spanish and Japanese speakers remember it less than they do intentional actions. It raises questions about whether language affects even something as basic as how we construct our ideas of causality."

What is known as the location-based or out-of-home entertainment industry has its own language- the different words and adjectives we use to describe the industry itself, industry segments and particular venues. Unfortunately, that language is currently limiting an industry that needs to evolve to stay competitive with all the disruption being brought about by changing lifestyles and values in America and other parts of the world and the fast-evolving digital and virtual entertainment and social media options that are capturing an increasing share of peoples' entertainment/leisure time and money.

Here are just a few examples of the current terminology:

  • Location-based entertainment (LBE)
  • Family entertainment center (FEC)
  • Family fun center
  • Bowling-entertainment center (BEC)
  • Children's entertainment/edutainment center
  • Pizza buffet entertainment center
  • Adult entertainment center (not the XXX type)
  • Eatertainment (restaurant-entertainment) center

As a result, the designs and operations of these out-of-home venues are typically shaped by the mindset that terminology creates, such as a an FEC is for families, people of all ages, and offers entertainment such as games and rides. However, that is neither how guests see the FECs or the other venues and the experiences they offer nor why they typically make the decision to attend.

The first problem with calling the overall industry the family entertainment center industry, and particular venues FECs, is that the vast majority of attractions offered are not entertainment. Merriam-Webster defines entertainment as “amusement or diversion provided especially by performers.” Entertainment denotes a passive activity, an audience viewing something that is entertaining. Going to music concert, watching a play, watching a movie is entertainment. Bowling, riding go-karts or playing arcade games is not entertainment. These are all interactive games and activities. The belong to the broader category of leisure, not entertainment.

The second problem with the term FEC is it denotes venues for the entire family, which includes all age groups. Family venues are only one subcategory of the industry. In fact, today, the vast majority of venues don't target families. Instead they target more specific demographic groups such as children or young adults. In fact, the two largest chains that have been around for over 30 years, Dave & Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese's, fit those two subcategories. Neither targets the family as their primary target, although Chuck E. Cheese's does try to make the visit tolerable for parents so they won't veto the visit. You won't find children's whac-a-mole games for children at Dave & Buster's.

That is the reason our company has adopted the name community leisure venues (CLVs) to describe community-based leisure venues. Leisure is a much broader and more encompassing word to describe the overall experience of visiting one of these venues.

From consumers' perspectives, the reason, the motivation to visit different leisure venues is all about the type of occasion and typically not about the specific type of activity offered. Some of the most extensive research on guest motivations has been done in the restaurant and cultural attraction industries. Let's take a quick look at the restaurant industry.

In the food service industry, restaurants are typically classified as quick-service (QSR), fast food, fast casual, casual dining, fine dining, etc. However, extensive research by Coca-Cola found that diners view restaurants quite differently in five distinctive groups:

  • Entertain ‘n Unwind
  • Home Comfort
  • Pizza
  • Quick Service
  • Breads Abound

Entertain ‘n Unwind is described as, “Adults socializing with alcohol beverages and better-quality food in a fun, upscale atmosphere with attentive wait-service at higher prices.” Home Comfort, on the other hand is, “Family relaxing with food that evoke ‘home' in spacious settings providing informal but caring service at moderate prices.”

I recent study by PepsiCo found different restaurant visit occasion categories including Relished Time, time for special occasions.

When it comes to the key drivers of why consumers select particular restaurants, it is different than how the food service industry thinks of it in the context of type of service, price points, check size and menu, daypart and type of restaurant. Consumers pick restaurants based on the type of occasion and their needs for it to accommodate that occasion, broadly segmented by party size and composition and the amount of time they have available to spend.

Understanding how consumers view restaurants and their dining occasion needs is important to success. For example, within the social grouping defined by Coca-Cola is a subcategory Dinner, Date & Drink. To satisfy that occasion, there has to be the right combination of menu, service delivery and atmosphere, which would be quite different than what it takes to satisfy a planned family dinner.

It gets very interesting when we examine the basic emotional or occasion reasons that people visit an out-of-home leisure or entertainment activity, as it is counterintuitive to what most people in the industry think. Research with cultural institutions finds the primary reason the majority of people visit a live performance such as dance, music or a play isn't for the entertainment aspect of the experience, it's for the socialization. Socialization is also the #1 reason to visit an art and craft fair. Eventbrite's research shows that the 2nd top reason Millennials attend food, wine and beer festivals (the 1st is to be exposed to new products and companies) is to “do something with friends and family.” When it comes to the motivations to visit sport and live events, research finds that the sports and events are a mere backdrop for time to spend with friends and family. People come to all these venues be able to come together in a physical space and interact face-to-face - to socialize. Most times it is the social nature of the occasion that is primarily driving the visit decision, not the activity, entertainment or food and drink. They are all only facilitators of the socialization.

The social aspect of the occasion is where so many CLVs, as well as restaurant venues, fail to achieve their true potential by not understanding and designing the guest experience to offer the optimal social outcomes. Typically, the focus is on the entertainment and/or the food and drink and not on all the other aspects of the experience that need to be properly executed to facilitate the socialization.

Socialization brings up the need for food and beverage at non-restaurant venues. It all goes back to early mankind sitting around the primal campfire as a group and eating that day's kill. Evolution has hard wired the appeal of the primal campfire social experience into our genes. Today in many dining instances we substitute a candle for the campfire. People seem to need food or beverage to enjoy a social occasion. We are programmed by evolution to socialize around food and beverage. We need to eat and drink multiple times a day. We have no biological need to bowl, play games or ride go-karts. That probably explains why the eatertainment venues have far outlasted many pure entertainment ones. You might not remember the Mountasia & Malibu Grand Prix FEC chain. That is because it was all about “entertainment” and therefore didn't last. Now more than 30 years old, eatertainment concepts like Chuck E. Cheese's and Dave & Buster's are still going strong since around half of their sales are from food and beverage.

We are seeing the emergence of many new hybrid combinations of dining, drinking, interactive social games and group functions with an emphasis on the socialization. To succeed against the disruptive pull of the digital and virtual worlds, CLVs needs to evolve with a focus on the social experience, not the activities, where food and drink plays a major role, most times even more important than the activity components. The digital and virtual worlds can offer entertainment and social experiences, but they can't offer food and beverage (at least not until they invent the food replicator that Star Trek had) and the face-to-face socialization facilitated by interactive social activities and games.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of players in the various out-of-home entertainment industries, whether it be movie theaters, bowling, laser tag or family entertainment centers just to name a few, continue to be prisoners of their industry's language for defining their venues and the experiences that take place in them. As long as those industry segments continue to classify and think of themselves in those terms, they will continue to stay stuck in their paradigms and not make the transition to what it takes to be successful both today and even more so in the future.

The emphasis should not be on the entertainment and activities but rather on the social experience -- the primary reasons people go out together. The development of successful CLVs requires a holistic view of the guests social experiences rather than believing guests are coming primarily for the entertainment.

It is not at all surprising that most of the new CLV venue concepts that are grasping this concept do not come out of the entertainment industry. Most come from the restaurant industry. They are even using social in their names, such as Punch Bowl Social, Southside Social, Queen Park Social, King's Social and Radio Social.

So, we propose that we all start using new terminology, community leisure venues, and a new acronym, CLV, to retrain our thought processes on the real business most of us are in, the type experiences we need to be offering our guests and get unstuck from the past.