Restaurant Experience

The Key Takeaways from Nielsen CGA’s Channel Strategy Report 2019 on Creating a Successful Experiential Restaurant or Bar

Consumers are continuing to demand more from their dining experience, to the point that it’s becoming clear that what worked in the past, great ambiance and good food, may not be enough in the future. Forward-looking brands are investing in unique and innovative experiential dining venues and steadily growing in the process. 

According to a report in Forbes, companies that lead in customer experience outperform their competitors by almost 80 percent while 84 percent of companies that improve their customer experience report an increase in revenue. Not bad!

From Puttshack, a combination of high-end dining and high-tech interactive mini golf, to the up-and-coming Smoky Barrels, a London-based concept that transports guests to the Scottish Highlands by combining a virtual multi-player hunting simulation game with Scottish fare, it’s clear that this segment is intent on offering exciting and off-the-beaten path experiences. 

Recently, Nielsen CGA released their data-fueled Channel Strategy report designed to help game-based, experiential restaurant operators (and the suppliers that support them) excel in their field. These takeaways will help owners, managers, and those interested in getting into this burgeoning segment of hospitality, make knowledgeable decisions regarding their target customer, opportunities for developing marketing strategies, and food and drink recommendations based on consumer spending. Knowledge is, after all, one of the most important keys to success. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the key takeaways. 

Target Customer

According to Nielsen CGA, “Game-based visitors tend to be younger consumers, are frequent visitors to the channel, and are largely experimental.” One of the key influencing factors that drives these guests to a particular venue are unique, exciting, and new offerings. 

Topgolf hit it out of the park when they incorporated golf and great food. Their micro-chipped golf balls keep track of every shot—showing both accuracy and distance on the screen. Currently, there are 54 Topgolf locations in the U.S., 4 between the U.K. and Australia, and 10 more in the construction phase. In addition to a high-tech, interactive activity, the creators understood that today’s consumers are looking for delicious food and drinks to go with their experience.  

Groups are also prime candidates as these types of venues promote an environment conducive to group interactions. Although visits commonly occur with friends, consider family get-togethers as well when developing a marketing strategy. 

Marketing Strategy

“Game-based/experiential restaurants and bars are frequently visited throughout the day and into the late evening.” This large active timeframe gives operators a tremendous amount of opportunity to target their prospective customers. Happy hour is an important part of this equation and a key draw for this group of consumers. 

A strong theme is also one of the defining strengths of successful interactive restaurants. Medieval Times is a 5-star dinner theater in Chicago. With that name and presence, guests know to expect jousting, knights on horses, and probably the option of a large turkey leg to nibble on. It’s going to be exciting and loud. You know, with a 5-star rating, they hit their mark. This type of venue can target companies, various groups, birthday parties, and family gatherings, and they do. 

Nielsen CGA also noted that “As the consumers of this channel are there to play games, a focus should be on creating point of sale merchandise that connects the games to brands.” You’ll notice that many of these concepts offer merchandise, be it t-shirts, mugs, or chalices, that help visitors keep their brand in mind. 

Food & Beverage

“While the game and the experiential element of the channel is a key draw, the food offering is also quite important in this channel.” You’ll find that many of the top entertainment operations provide high-end food and beverage options for their guests. Topgolf displays their Breakfast and Weekend Brunch offering top and center on their website, a nod to Nielsen CGA’s data that supports a “large, active timeframe.” Here you’ll find crème brulee French toast, smoked brisket, ahi tuna avocado toast, and an acai superfood bowl—definitely not your standard game-based fare.  

Nielsen CGA also found some interesting statistics regarding beverage. Generally, it’s a good idea to look for brands that align with game-based consumers who are often looking for something fun and casual. This can be achieved by creating unique variations of the most popular cocktails that are compatible with the venue. 

For instance, Smoky Barrels offers a Foraged Old Fashioned made with a blend of Monkey Shoulder whisky, foraged pine needle tincture, double infused heather honey and barrel aged bitters. Now, that will get you in the spirit! Fact-based stories will also go a long way in selling brands. This same establishment offers a Bonnie Spritz that incorporates Haig Club Scotch whisky that’s infused with rowan berries and lime, and enhanced by Rosato vermouth, rhubarb, Peychaud’s bitters, and a touch of agave. 

Haig Club, as the story goes, is crafted at the oldest grain distillery in Scotland, while rowan berries come from a tree deemed sacred by Celts. It is known as the Tree of Life and is a symbol for courage, wisdom, and protection with its bright red berries associated with the drops of blood shed by an eagle. Now there’s a story worth repeating. 

Beer: Just under half of all game-based establishment visitors are beer drinkers, and of those beer drinkers, 50 percent of them choose domestic. In order to appeal to groups, consider branded beer buckets and beer towers that would add to your customer’s experience. 

Spirits: According to Nielsen CGA, spirit drinkers bring value due to their spend and the frequency of their visits. While beer drinkers are prone to drinking the same brand, spirit drinkers are more likely to try new drinks, though reputable brands are still important. The two most popular spirits associated with this venue are vodka and whiskey. Vodka drinkers are less price sensitive and more inclined to trade up to a premium offering, particularly if that brand is unique or exciting.

Cocktails: One out of every four customers will be drinking cocktails with margaritas, Long Island ice teas, and mojitos being the most popular. Cocktail drinkers are also more prone to enjoy a bite to eat while imbibing (4 out of 5)—making pairing a strong consideration when determining which brands and drinks to carry. In addition to considering cocktails that go well with food, keep in mind that a range of cocktails are required in order to satisfy the different consumer tastes.

From the Maldives restaurant, Ithaa, that lies 16 feet below sea level, to the Disaster Café where guests can experience a simulated earthquake on the 7.8 Richter scale, it’s clear that restaurant operators have heeded the call of consumers looking for the unusual in life and in dining. We can only imagine what 2020 will bring in this exciting segment of hospitality. 

Resource: Nielsen CGA – Channel Strategy Report 2019

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