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Driving business with interactive gaming

Buffalo Wild Wings, others, use games and entertainment to score repeat visits, higher checks

Buffalo Wild Wings is enhancing the guest experience and encouraging repeat patronage through the use of an interactive, in-restaurant gaming system, the chain said, and other operators are finding the technology key to building higher checks.

The 700-unit Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings is one of many restaurateurs to provide out-of-home entertainment options, such as interactive gaming or special TV programming. That strategy is gaining some support from research that suggests that entertainment-laced “destination dining” may win a larger share of the shrinking consumer spending for out-of-home entertainment not associated with vacations or travel.

Some independent operations, including John Howie’s Sport Restaurant & Bar in Seattle, are using new entertainment technologies, such as 3D TV, in already entertainment heavy settings to catch new guests or incite second looks from regulars.

This fall Buffalo Wild Wings is offering guests the chance to play the Pick ‘Em Challenge, which pits their skill at picking professional football game winners against the picks of celebrity sports experts, including ESPN talent and pigskin hall of famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice. The highest weekly scorer in the game — provided by vendor NTN Buzztime Inc. — at each restaurant receives a $25 gift card. The highest scoring player across the entire chain each week will win a trip to play in a flag football game in February coached by celebrities at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

“Buffalo Wild Wings is proud to be the destination location for football fans each season and Buzztime has been integral in helping us to encourage repeat patronage in our restaurants this year with the Pick ‘Em Challenge,” said Kathy Benning, Buffalo Wild Wings executive vice president of global marketing and brand development.

Benning did not disclose the amount of repeat patronage generated by the game or whether or not it favorably impacts average checks. The chain did estimate that more than 100,000 of the chain’s guests, or an average of 143 per restaurant, will play Pick ‘Em Challenge this football season.

The game vendor’s website quote other restaurant operators as indicating that the company’s interactive games can boost average checks by as much as 50 percent, compared with the spend of non-players.

Seattle-based John Howie’s Sport Restaurant & Bar this summer looked to take advantage of FIFA World Cup soccer fever by teaming with cable provider Comcast to haul in a state-of-the-art big-screen 3D TV and 10 pairs of 3D glasses for the series finals.

Comcast officials involved in the promotion said interest in the new technology was high, and that guests in the restaurant shared the 3D glasses while taking advantage of Howie’s tap beer special pricing of $3 for domestic pours and $4 for micro brews.

Combining a leisure activity, such as gaming, with the service of meals and beverages is good tactic, according to officials of Kansas City. Mo.-based White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group.

Principal Randy White indicated in a white paper that while overall household spending for out-of-home entertainment increased 19 percent between 2004 and 2009. The jump was driven by increased expenditures for such activities on vacations, while spending for such diversions near the home actually decreased by 13 percent.

White’s group identified destination dining as one of three opportunities going forward to grow non-vacation, out-of-home entertainment spending.

White pointed out that the average American eats out more than 200 times a year, or far more frequently than they visit entertainment venues, such as the cinema, which he said research shows Americans, on average, visited just 4.3 times in 2009.

“Destination dining drives frequency. That is why many movie theatre chains are ramping up their food and beverage offerings with bars, restaurants and even full meals while watching the movie,” White wrote. “Food adds another competitive advantage, as no virtual world or imaginative experience can incorporate the real world sensory experience of eating and drinking.”

Contact Alan Liddle at [email protected].

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