The Gaming Life

As a bar or club owner, getting people to come into your establishment seems effortless. However, getting those customers to not only stick around for a few hours but also to come back regularly is harder than it looks.

Integrating gaming and music systems with your bar creates a fun atmosphere, but ingenuity helps capitalize on what those machines can do. Hosting promotions and contests using electronic games and music systems can go a long way toward achieving bottom-line goals.


Using electronic games in bar promotions can help attract regular clientele.

Big Risks, Big Rewards

Most owners make the mistake of believing that simply having the machine is enough to attract customers. Savvy owners, however, know that you have to have big ideas to win over big crowds. 

“The market I came from, we had (NTN) Buzztime, and I hated it. I thought it was a waste,” Piera Norris, general manager of Hooters in Fairfax, Va., says. “I was thinking about getting rid of it when I came to this new store (two months ago).”

But the Buzztime representative in Norris’ area wouldn’t let that happen. Instead, he showed her all of the features and different ways to use the gaming machine’s potential, easily dispelling her original disregard of the machine.

Now, Norris is throwing weekly Are You Smarter than a Hooters Girl? contests that “pretty much keeps people here longer, eating and drinking,” she says. The contest consists of a Hooters server donning a schoolgirl outfit and competing against patrons while playing Buzztime trivia. Winners win monetary prizes: $75 for first place, $50 for second place and $25 for third place.

“(The contest) simply keeps people there longer and engaged. It made our business pick up when we’re typically slow,” she says.


Adding Monetary Value

“We’ve got 12 games. Twenty-five percent of my business is games, and I’m a bar and grill,” jokes Mike Cornwell Sr., owner of The Double Inn Lounge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Cornwell knows that gaming systems provide an opportunity to capture a larger audience, which is why he hosts monthly tournaments featuring different games.

“It brings in people you wouldn’t see as often,” he explains. For Incredible Technologies Golden Tee golf tournaments, Cornwell notices that competitors will often come in and track where they are in the standings. “If they’re in 10th place, they’ll come in three or five times a week to catch up.”

Mike Lee, vice president of Chester, Pa.-based Automatic Coin Vending, an amusement vending company specializing in music and games, works with AMI Entertainment Network to integrate their gaming systems in Philadelphia-area bars. Lee helps bar owners create tournaments using the systems, and he says hosting tournaments differentiates bars from their competitors down the street.

Additionally, tournament games charge patrons more than individual games, meaning bar owners make more money. According to Lee, an average bar can make a profit of about $500 from tournament games each year, but bars with greater tournament play can earn more than $2,000. Not to mention, group tournaments give patrons more incentive to play.

“There’s a lot of power players that might play 500 or 600 games a month,” he says.

Certainly, planning a tournament or a promotion can take can mean a little more work for owners, but Lee says that extra eight hours a month in planning means bars are making “a lot more money.”

Gaming 2

Hosting tournaments can help a bar earn up to $2,000 more each year.

Technology Adds Dimension

With the ubiquity of smartphones and an ever-advancing technological landscape, gaming and music systems need to stay ahead of the times. In fact, owners often can feel like they’re competing against handheld devices that offer just as many addictive touchscreen games as their establishments.

Five or 10 years ago, no one was using smartphones, explains AJ Russo, creative director at AMI. To play a touchscreen game, people had to venture to bars to play, he adds.

Larry Elbert, president of Camden Amusement, an amusement game operator in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, works with regional bars to host tournaments using TouchTunes jukeboxes and other gaming systems as a way to get patrons to use their smartphones as interactive, social devices.

“The most successful (bars) are the ones engaging 21 to 30 year olds,” he says, noting that patrons who use smartphones every day expect immediate gratification. “If they want to listen to a song, they want it available now,” he says.

MyTouchTunes parties promote the jukebox at Cornwell’s establishment. The goal, he says, is to get people downloading songs from their phones to play on the machine. “For every $20 or $25 dollars they download to the machine (from their phone), the jukebox gives (them) six or seven free songs.”

“Our biggest goal is to promote the use of the jukebox as a source of entertainment at the bar. If the music is playing, the atmosphere is better for the clientele, which keeps them there for two more drinks,” Elbert says.

This past July, for example, AMI launched the ML-1, a “social-entertainment system,” explains Russo. ML-1 lends itself to a more competitive atmosphere, especially with the addition of the Megatouch Battle Arena, which splits the screen in half so players can play against each other, side by side, in real time. Players also can play in round-robin bracket tournaments.

The new design makes it possible for two, three or four people to play together, Russo adds.


AMI's ML-1 social-entertainment system.

Growing Loyal Patrons

At RoadRunner Saloon in Las Vegas, General Manager Tim Crouse says Golden Tee golf tournaments create a “loyalty that comes from being fun,” enhancing the atmosphere because patrons are having a good time.

What’s more, tournaments beget more tournaments, which entice more and more people to play.

“It would absolutely make those who didn’t play the game watch it because the guys that are playing are excited,” Crouse explains.  Patrons who aren’t playing, he says, sneak over to a Golden Tee machine, start playing and, in turn, become regular players. “When people see excitement, they like to go to that aspect. It’s a big advantage,” he says.

At Aubree’s Pizzeria & Grill in Ypsilanti, Mich., the daily Buzztime trivia causes happy hour regulars to become better acquainted with each other. “It’s a pretty solid crowd of customers,” says Manager David O’Brien. “They associate (the trivia) with each other, and it builds us a better, solid happy hour crowd.”

The trivia contests increase the bars sales, and they “certainly increase our business,” O’Brien adds.

These money-making games and music machines continue to evolve, meaning they’re rife with opportunities for bar owners looking to achieve maximum profitability while maintaining enthusiastic crowds that love a smart, fun and lasting competition.

“A lot of bars do music,” Cornwell says. “I do games.”

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