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

Food and Games

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The restaurantainment genre has grown far beyond arcades and big-screen TVs.
By Cal Chang Yocum June 2015 Chain Restaurants

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.

Ironically, the popular bocce courts weren’t part of the original Rhein Haus concept. When owner Rich Fox discovered the perfect Seattle location for the restaurant, he found himself in a similar predicament as Lyons of Kings Bowl. “We found a building, an old candy factory, in the right neighborhood,” says Fox. “It had great bones and it felt appropriate to the concept, but we had several thousand feet more than we needed.”

The concept of beer, brats, and bocce—wrapped in an Old World Bavarian aesthetic of reclaimed pieces, stunning light fixtures, and an impressive back bar—was an instant hit. On a typical day, Fox says, as many as 400 customers will be onsite within 30 minutes of opening. The 2-year-old restaurant with bench-style seating has also experienced a boon from walk-in groups of 12 or more.

“It’s played out the way we wanted it to,” says Fox, adding that the concept has been such a hit the company is looking to open additional locations in other cities.

When Fox and his partners scouted for a second location for Rhein Haus, they saw potential in Chicago, Denver, Austin, Phoenix, and Minneapolis. Denver won out when a 14,000-square-foot building in the city’s historic LoDo district became available. As the restaurant’s founders prepare for an end-of-summer opening of their second location, a commercial real estate broker in Phoenix is on the lookout for the right space for the next Rhein Haus.

Large-Scale Fun

Among the largest and most versatile concepts in the emerging restaurantainment genre is Latitude 360, a dining and entertainment destination featuring live comedy, bowling, video games, and dine-in movies. Its first three restaurants, located in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville, Florida, boast venues topping 50,000 square feet. Later this year, the concept will expand to Boston, Minneapolis, and Albany, New York. New locations in New York’s Financial District, Chicago, and Atlantic City are slated to open in 2016, with each of these venues expected to exceed 80,000 square feet.

“You might see three generations enjoying a play date on a Saturday afternoon, and at night, two generations on a double date,” says Brent Brown, CEO of Latitude 360.

The concept’s main restaurant, 360 Grille, anchors the enormous space that houses a movie theater, a Vegas-style showroom, swanky bowling lanes, a sports bar with numerous high-definition screens, a cigar lounge, and an arcade. “We’re a 360 experience,” says Brown. “Customers can come in and dine, cheer on their favorite sports team, laugh in our comedy club, watch a great movie, or dance on the dance floor. ”

Brown describes the Latitude 360 space as flex space where one room might show a comedy on a Saturday afternoon and be used for a corporate event another day. With so many stages, screens, and rooms to schedule from day to day, Latitude 360 has partnered with Brand Synergy Group, a lifestyle consulting group with an extensive network of entertainment talent including chefs, comedians, and musicians. Brand Synergy helps with programming to keep Latitude 360’s entertainment offerings varied and current—whether it’s a relevant product demo, a Kelly Clarkson performance, or a wine-and-canvas event led by a budding artist.

In addition to the new U.S. locations planned for this year and next, Latitude 360 recently signed a franchise agreement with Al Sedriyah, a restaurant and hospitality group in Qatar, to expand the concept to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “[Opening] one per year is the target per region,” says Brown, who has his eye on other potential markets in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, and Kuwait.

Brown sees Latitude 360 as a lifestyle brand that can be parlayed into international markets. “We’ll bring them what they love most about American culture … and blend it with their culture to give them a 360 experience,” he says.

Another way Latitude 360 offers its guests a total experience is through a membership program that offers three levels of membership. The most basic membership is free and lets customers build up reward points based on spending. Its second-tier membership costs $25 per month and buys customers two comedy and movie tickets, an hour of bowling, and $25 in games each month. Its most elite membership is $50 and offers double the benefits of the mid-tier membership. Seven months following the launch of its membership program, Brown says the company had sold 3,500 memberships, generating over $1.4 million in annualized membership dues.

We’re focused on the three R’s,” Brown adds. “Recurring revenue [which memberships help with], reservations [via a concierge at each location], and relationships with our customers.”