Get in the Game

Any regular at your bar will tell you it’s not only the cool beer list or refreshing cocktail menu that keep them coming back, but also the vibe of the place. Part of that energy is the entertainment options available. By including a few gaming systems — anything from state-of-the-art action games to trivia games — or a jukebox, a range of guests will be visually stimulated and engaged. That means while they’re staying to play, they also will be paying to drink and eat. To get that profitable action going, follow these tips to turn your establishment into a one-stop shop for fun and excitement.

At Arena Sports Bar & Grill in Simi Valley, Calif., gaming systems draw crowds and profits.

1 Location, Location, Location

Even before ordering a beer or finding a seat at Allie Katz Bar in Augusta, Ga., guest focus shifts to two grandiose centerpieces — a pair of Golden Tee golf machines from Incredible Technologies — placed beside the bar so guests walk past them on their way to order drinks. Ask Owner Bryan Birmingham, and he’ll tell you that it’s all part of his strategy — by no means is it serendipitous.

The bar relocated in July 2010, expanding to a 5,400 square-foot, 200-person space.

“When we did that, we took in consideration the games. They’re a very strategic part in how we laid out the bar,” he explains, knowing that engaging customers beyond what a bar serves on tap can help drive stronger traffic and sales.

Management at the 7,500-square-foot, 360-person Arena Sports Bar & Grill in Simi Valley, Calif., knows this all too well. The bar’s 20 TVs constantly are showing sporting events, so Manager Dan Rosen has to think outside the box to drive additional gaming revenue and draw attention to game units. Positioning his NTN Buzztime playmakers near the popcorn machine and letting patrons help themselves to free popcorn has created an outpouring of interest in trivia, so much so that Rosen has increased the number of playmakers at the sports bar.

The playmakers’ location is no coincidence, either, but all a part of alerting patrons to what else Arena has to offer.  “That’s a strategic place,” Rosen says.

Arena also features Buzztime trivia on the big-screen TV, which is positioned thoughtfully as well. “You see it when you walk in,” he explains.
While Rosen and Birmingham position their machines strategically, Debbie Roberts, owner of J.F. Kicks in Valrico, Fla., says she utilizes all of her bar’s 4,000 square feet for game play. Roberts installed Buzztime playmakers on both patios, in the dining room, at the bar, etc., where the games get plenty of action. Roberts also attributes the establishment’s pervasive engagement to proactive staff members who take the initiative to explain the games to patrons, immersing them equally in the entertainment as well as the drinks and food.

Having a Megatouch gaming console on the bar and a Touchtunes jukebox within view of the door is all a part of the success strategy at Frank & Tony’s in Willoughby, Ohio: Stop in for a beer and wings or pizza, but stay to listen to some music and play a quick game of trivia.

“We don’t have music that automatically plays in here, so a customer usually has to play [a song] to hear anything,” Assistant Bar Manager Katie Wiesler says, explaining that placing the jukebox in a visible location encourages guests to maintain the social atmosphere.

Bottom line: Location matters. Gaming systems drive traffic and revenue, but if they’re not in a visible place, you won’t score the profits.

2 Staying Power

Once you’ve figured out which gaming systems will have the biggest draw at your establishment, make sure to promote them so people will come in to play, then come back again and again. Take note of your demographic, and cultivate an environment in which guests see your bar as their second home.

Birmingham realizes how important it is to entice guests while they’re sipping on a draft brew or cocktail, and because Allie Katz doesn’t serve food, he relies on gaming systems to draw in a large crowd along with profits.
Allie Katz

At Allie Katz in Augusta, Ga., Golden Tee golf tournaments bring in profits.

“While they’re playing the machines, they’ll be drinking as well, and it helps [sales overall],” Birmingham says. “I get busy around 9 or
10 p.m., and these games bring in an extra dozen people at the bar.”

Guests each spend approximately $20 more if they’re drinking and playing, especially during Golden Tee league season, he shares. In fact, the league became so popular that Birmingham added another machine so he could include more players. Now, 20 to 30 people compete against each other for about eight weeks, bringing in a steady stream of traffic and dollars.

The ability to win prizes often encourages guests to join Golden Tee leagues. After each tournament, the top 10 players are awarded prize money by Incredible Technologies, which credits the winner’s Golden Tee Gold Card (an ID card that keeps track of stats and points) with the amount won. Once the winner’s account is credited, he or she can use the winnings to buy Golden Tee gear. The monetary prize aspect encourages friendly competition, inspiring regular Golden Tee players to become invested in virtual tournaments.

“There’s a lot of trash-talking,” Birmingham quips. That passion for the game is a good thing: The Golden Tee tournaments draw a crowd. “For the last league championship, we had 40 people watching four people play golf.”

Trivia games, like those from NTN Buzztime, also can establish a core group of players who help create a gaming culture within your bar.
“It’s a great tool to retain them at the bar,” Rosen says. “In fact, for a while there, we had some really good players coming in, and we’d get No. 1 in the nation, so we’d give them $25 [toward a] bar tab.”

With regular trivia players ready to participate, happy hour at Arena Sports Bar and Grill and J.F. Kicks has guests coming for the specials but staying for the games.

“I have 10 people that come in seven days a week to play trivia,” Rosen says. “They’re doing something instead of sitting there drinking; they’re talking about the questions with other guests,” he explains, noting that after a conversation starts, guests will play against each other. “People are just competitive.”
Arena Sports Bar & Grill

Patrons love playing Buzztime Trivia at Arena Sports Bar & Grill.

Roberts wouldn’t want to do without her trivia games. “What it does for us is it helps people easily make friends. For example, they come in, two or three people, to play a game, and it gives them something in common, something to do,” she says.

Once you’ve established your bar as a go-to destination for gaming, it’s important to diversify. Arena caters to a wide demographic. On weekdays, middle-aged people come in to play trivia, Rosen says, while Buzztime’s QB1 football game is popular with a younger crowd during football season.

Allie Katz management also faces this issue. Because Golden Tee generally attracts a male audience, Birmingham added Incredible
Technologies’ PowerPutt mini-golf game, along with darts and Megatouch, to draw a more diverse group of players.

By engaging a mix of players into the overall gaming atmosphere, Allie Katz, J.F. Kicks and Arena Sports Bar and Grill are the home base for patrons who initially might want to hang out for a couple of beers but ultimately stay longer after playing a few rounds of golf or trivia.

3 Innovation Matters

As Buzztime establishes a more integral network of options, including applications for iPhones and Androids, operators are noting the benefits of all-encompassing gaming. With the advent of trivia games available on smartphones, both Roberts and Rosen hope to incorporate that capability into their larger gaming strategy. Rosen also sees the benefits of using the Internet for gaming, especially when his patrons arrive with their laptops to play fantasy football. In fact, Rosen envisions an internet-enabled, multi-media experience in his bar, with guests searching the Web for fantasy-football scores and watching an NFL game on one of his 20 TVs while playing QB1 with their playmakers or answering trivia
questions on their smartphones.

Many gaming vendors share that vision and are enhancing their systems (see sidebar). Music systems are also keeping stride with fresh and new electronics.

New high-tech jukeboxes, such as the TouchTunes Virtuo (see sidebar), are hitting the market. Touch screens are gaining prominence, proving entertainment does indeed come in all forms. And, as the saying goes, if you build it, they will come. Frank & Tony’s Wiesler says, “It’s just entertainment for the people that come in; they always use the [systems],” even if they don’t specifically seek them out.

Gamers come in all types, and even the most unskilled beginner will find fun and excitement with bar games. It doesn’t take much to entice a guest; in many cases, they’re already at your bar, so get them to stay long after your happy-hour specials have ended and into the wee hours of the morning by offering entertainment alternatives. Answering a few questions or hitting a couple of virtual long balls is easy, and bar owners who aren’t taking advantage of guests’ preferences will miss out on profits and fun. NCB

New & Improved

Gaming companies constantly are coming up with new versions of some of their most popular games, and now they’re going beyond their own in-venue units. Both NTN Buzztime and TouchTunes have introduced smartphone applications to the mix, allowing guests to play a game or choose music from anywhere inside a venue. Other products entering the market include:

• Virtuo SmartJuke. Launched this spring, Virtuo is a touch-screen jukebox that’s the first of its kind. The new design is wall-mounted and features a 26-inch widescreen that offers a fully engaging experience. The advanced browsing capabilities — patrons can “swipe” the screen or access a touch-screen keyboard to search — showcase an extensive music and video library that includes interactive advertising abilities.
• myTouchTunes Mobile App. Users can locate myTouchTunes-enabled establishments nearby and, once inside, play music on the venue’s jukebox directly from a smartphone.

• Buzztime Shorts. These 30- to 60-second trivia games can take one of two forms: As a game, they keep customers engaged; as polls, they can be used for advertising research for multi-location operationsThe Season
• The Season. Debuting this fall, The Season combines fantasy football and metagaming. Guests can join a league and become members of virtual NFL football teams, answering trivia questions specific to their team or team city. By answering correctly, players gain yardage, helping them unlock badges that will be redeemable for prizes from Buzztime and, eventually, the venue.
• Word games. If sports aren’t your patrons’ thing, Buzztime will be launching a word game similar to Scrabble or Words With Friends in the fall. Guests will be able to play in teams or as individuals against customers in other bars across the country.

Incredible Technologies
• Golden Tee upgrades. Courses will include the Egyptian pyramids, the Swiss Alps and the Eiffel Tower.
• PowerPutt LIVE. Coming out in spring 2012, this version will be complete with online tournaments, giving players a chance to win cash and track stats.

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