The Money-Making Game

Proper Marketing, Promotional Events and Just Plain Fun Make Electronic Entertainment Systems Booming Profit Centers

In the age of technology, everyone needs to feel connected to the latest and greatest. From Wi-Fi to high-definition televisions and all-access cable packages, bars are expected to have it all. And that includes having the newest electronic games for guests to wile away the hours — all while enjoying a bite to eat and a chilled beverage from the bar. And if done correctly, bars can reap significant economic rewards by featuring the hottest in electronic gaming.

Buzztime gaming system

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Double Inn Lounge is filled with electronic games, including two or three Golden Tee Golf machines (varying by time of year), two Silver Strike Live bowling systems, one PowerPutt miniature golf game and five electronic dart boards, among other games that float  in and out depending on popularity. But the profits from the machines themselves are not what keep these games at the Double Inn Lounge. Instead, says owner Mike Cornwell, it’s the food and drink purchases during game play that keep people at his bar longer. “Having these games is great because, I swear to God, everybody that comes in at night to play games, they always order food.”

Once guests start games, they want to play until the end, which more often than not equates to an extra drink or snack, explains Harold Wallace, vice president of operations for five Old Chicago locations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Wallace, who also is a partner in the Louisville, Colo.-based chain, features NTN Buzztime trivia, sports and card games in all of his locations as well as Golden Tee Golf and Silver Strike.

Marketing Musts

But while games can be a boon for business, they won’t realize their full profit-generating potential unless marketed well.

Most operators say fliers and posters are successful forms of marketing for games and special gaming events, such as tournaments. Others, like Cornwell, post ads in the local newspapers touting their game inventory, and Steve Alberts, from Splinters Sports Pub in Palatine, Ill., markets his venue’s games through local hotels to attract business travelers looking for familiar and fun entertainment.

Additionally, outside assistance often comes from game vendors such as Michael Lee, vice president of Chester, Pa.-based Automatic Coin Vending. He provides marketing materials including downloadable signage and digital advertising through AMI Entertainment Network’s or Megatouch game consoles.

These games are used for more than just fun; they can add a touch of subliminal messaging, too. While playing Buzztime, for example, an ad promoting the special of the day can sit on the screen, causing guests to salivate over an enticing image of that calzone or cheeseburger, and order one up quickly — followed by another beer to wash it down. Bar operators can also resell this ad space to local businesses, turning it into an additional profit center.

See and Be Seen

But guests can’t take advantage of these ads or the games themselves unless they see them, and many owners say just making the games stand out will improve sales.

Cornwell, for example, connects 27-inch televisions to the games and mounts the extra screens on the wall above the games at the Double Inn Lounge (see below). This allows people sitting at the bar to see what’s happening and join in on the fun — and line up for the next shot at success. “I don’t know why all the bars don’t do that,” he says. “When you’re standing in front of the screen, no one can see it. And people go nuts over [watching] games like bowling — it’s just crazy.”

Double Inn Lounge

Many game creators, including Incredible Technologies, maker of Silver Strike and Golden Tee Golf, are heeding this call. They’re evolving the bulky video game cabinets, which took up valuable floor space and made the gaming scene a private one, only enjoyed by the player, to a pedestal and TV monitor that displays high-definition graphics. “2010 was a big step up to me, in terms of design and products,” Alberts says of this year’s updates to his systems, which include four Golden Tee Golf machines, one Silver Strike, one Big Buck Hunter and two Megatouch games. “When anybody walks in and sees these four [Golden Tee] games along a wall, they say, ‘Wow.’”

Making the games noticeable also is the goal at Wallace’s Old Chicago locations, which feature several Buzztime products. The number one way to get people to notice Buzztime, he says, is to make sure it’s always on. His locations have approximately 20 to 22 TVs, and he keeps Buzztime going on multiple screens. His other key for success: Involve the staff — make sure bartenders and servers understand the games, whether it’s simply grasping how to log on or knowing the exact details of any game available.

Make It a Party

The last step to making bar games profitable is offering a great promotional event. Companies like NTN, AMI and Incredible Technologies offer national tournaments, and many venues opt to host their own weekly leagues or monthly tournaments. In August, Splinters will host a three-day Golden Tee charity tournament, attracting players from all over the country; the 4,200-square-foot neighborhood bar also hosts weekend Golden Tee Golf tournaments. “They try to do it once or twice a month, usually on a Saturday, and the players could be here eight, 10, 12 hours. The tournament will last maybe six hours, but they’ll keep playing,” Alberts says.

Golden Tee

The Double Inn Lounge hosts weekly Silver Strike leagues, which bring in 32 people every week, the majority of whom are women. Games run at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.; the league goes for 12 or 13 weeks and is followed by a playoff positioning round, culminating with a final season-ending party. This may seem like a typical way to bring in guests, but Cornwell offers another twist: birthday tournaments. He holds bowling tournaments and pays the $5 entry fee for anyone whose birthday is that month; he promotes the event in the newspaper, listing his regulars’ names. This marketing technique means these guests often bring in large groups of friends to celebrate along with them, Cornwell explains.

At the five Old Chicago locations under Wallace’s management (like the one pictured below), each restaurant faces off against each other in weekly Buzztime trivia contests. “This group of regulars is trying to beat that group of regulars,” he says. “Just the other day, one of the regular Evansville (Ind.) guys came up to me saying, ‘Hey, did you see we’ve won the last two weeks?’ It builds camaraderie for our regulars.”

Old Chicago

Offering gaming systems builds customer loyalty and increases guest checks while creating a fun, welcoming environment. “The games we supply provide inexpensive entertainment and fun for the bar patrons,” Lee points out. “They’re part of the reason why patrons stay, socialize and spend money in venues.” Connecting to technology allows you to connect with your guests. We’ll drink to that! NCB

Back to Basics

Pool ballsWhile electronic entertainment options pump revenue into a bar, the tried and true non-electronic games like darts, pool and shuffleboard still are success stories in many a bar, but it all depends on knowing the clientele.

At the 1,500-square-foot NoBAR in North Hollywood, Calif., local regulars and Hollywood hipsters line up to play on the bar’s lone pool table. “It gives people who love pool a reason to come in several nights a week,” owner Craig Trager explains. “Pool tables have been around for decades, and I think they are definitely important to a lot of the neighborhood watering holes.”

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, The Xtreme Bar in Appleton, Wis., features a full range of gaming options, including three Valley Great 8 pool tables, five Scorpion dart boards and two Tornado foosball tables. “Since I opened in 2002, we have always focused very strong on league play for pool, darts and foosball,” owner/operator Bill Maloney says. The 12,000-square-foot bar sees great success with dart and pool leagues about 30 weeks a year. “It’s not uncommon for 100 people to be in our bar for leagues on a certain night,” Maloney boasts. Pool is the biggest revenue generator and the most popular game, he says, with people playing pool throughout the day and league action heating up at night.

Some bar owners, however, lament the sheer size of some of the products. When the Double Inn Lounge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, fell victim to a flood in 2008 that damaged the pool tables, owner Mike Cornwell chose not to replace them in the aftermath. “My cut on the machine would maybe be $100 a week, but I can put three [bar] tables there and make that in a night,” he explains.

Harold Wallace, vice president of operations for five Old Chicago locations, says he keeps a pool table in his venues but isn’t sure it’s right for his clientele. “I think it does add to the atmosphere,” he says, “and it gets played some, but not near what it should for the square footage it takes up.”

Bars like the Double Inn Lounge, however, see great success with space-saving games like darts, hosting über-popular weekly leagues. He knows what his customers want and what works for his venue, which is a balance of old school options with new age high-tech systems.

Six Tips for Sales Success

“If bars and restaurants are struggling with their entertainment not being used, it’s because people don’t know about it,” says Michele Hinks, NTN Buzztime’s vice president of operations marketing. To get your games noticed, Hinks recommends the following:

  • Post signage or stickers on windows to let passersby know what games you offer.
  • Have staff wear buttons promoting the games, and make sure they talk them up to guests.
  • Put out table tents and post fliers showing off and explaining games.
  • Host competitions where the prize requires a return visit: a $25 gift certificate to the bar or restaurant, for example.
  • Send out e-mails promoting special events with the games.
  • Include information on your website highlighting your gaming options.


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