This post is part of the On the Margin blog.
The second quarter of 2016 hasn’t been good to the restaurant industry. Same-store sales started slowing in April, continued in May and then was even worse in June, according to Black Box Intelligence.
So the summer wasn’t starting out great. And then Niantic released Pokemon Go.
For those of you who have been under a rock over the past week, Pokemon Go has rapidly become the most popular mobile game of all time, and in the views of some could change the way we interact with computers.
Could it also lift restaurant industry sales? Maybe.
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that uses Google Maps and phones’ GPS capabilities to enable players to hunt Pokemon characters and do battle against other players at gyms across the country. In short: It gets people out of the house.
Some restaurants used the game to generate customers. Others curiously worked to keep non-customers from coming in only to fetch a Rattata or a Pidgey. Either way, numerous restaurant locations are “Pokestops,” or places where players can get free elements for the game.
As my colleague, Ron Ruggless wrote, there are lots of tips and tricks restaurants can employ to use the game to their advantage. And indeed, some restaurants like Glutton in downtown Las Vegas are offering specials for Pokemon Go players. Many others are hosting meetups or other events to lure players.
Now, with the game almost certainly heading toward sponsorships, it appears that one of the first big sponsors of the game will be McDonald’s Corp.
Restaurant sales are all about traffic. The more people are about, the more likely they are to spend on a night out. It’s why bad weather reduces restaurant sales, and good weather increases them.
The website Recode estimates there are 9.5 million active Pokemon Go players. That’s a lot of potential traffic. Even a tiny fraction of those players going to restaurants a bit more often could move the restaurant needle.
As it is, plenty of Pokemon Go players are using lunchtime as an excuse to sit at a restaurant and use a “lure” to bring Pokemon to the location while they eat. Or they’re just spending time out and about, which could lead them to go get some food.
Will it move the traffic needle a great deal? Probably not. Will it last? I tend to be among those who consider the game to be more fad than permanent part of the societal fabric.
But in a year in which restaurant sales at chains mysteriously headed south, anything that builds traffic is a good thing.