At a time when dinner guests can spend most of the meal preoccupied with their phones, establishments like Kings Dining & Entertainment are succeeding in getting social interactions going offline.
Formerly known as Kings Bowl America, the boutique bowling alley has recently rebranded its 11 locations across five states, maintaining a bowling program but bringing in other games, like billiards, shuffleboard, darts, air hockey and retro video games. The change also highlights a focus on the culinary program of scratch kitchen dishes and craft cocktails.
Kings chief operating officer Josh Rossmeisl says by combining dining and entertainment, the company has seen sustained growth since it first opened in Boston 15 years ago.
“An average restaurant visit is about 45-65 minutes. The average gust stays at Kings for two to three hours,” Rossmeisl says, thanks to dining, multiple bars, table games, DJs and other entertainment options. “Our goal is to allow people to put down their phones to connect, laugh and enjoy each other’s company in a way that’s becoming more rare in our fast-paced world.”
Social gaming, he says, “allows people to connect in a way that they usually don’t in a restaurant when the only anticipation is their next food course.”
But there’s more to combining dining and entertainment than just installing a few games. Rossmeisl shares insight into how Kings has found success.
Focus on the food
“Great food has always been a part of our DNA,” Rossmeisl says, explaining that founder Patrick Lyons first envisioned Kings as an evolution of the bowling industry, a place where food would be a highlight rather than an afterthought.
“Eating out is such an important part of our culture, so if you are going to serve food, do it well,” he says. “Use great ingredients and have the best team to serve them. When you overthink what a guest wants and forge the core of great food, drinks, and service, you start to lose.”
Food sales have steadily increased each year due to a commitment to the quality culinary program. Where many patrons would previously enjoy dinner elsewhere and then head to Kings, dinner reservations have increased more than 30 percent over the past three years and continue to grow, Rossmeisl says. Kings has simultaneously increased its to-go business by more than 50 percent and added delivery in most locations.
Kings also gives special treatment to dinner guests as part of a “Dine then Bowl” program that puts dinner guests’ names to the top of any game’s waiting list.
Find the right mix of games
People may be eating out three times as much as they used to, Rossmeisl says, but they “are not impressed with just dining out anymore; they want to be entertained.”
But implementing a gaming system isn’t as easy as some may think, he says.
“Family entertainment centers pack games in and don’t care about dining. Restaurants throw a few games in the corner and don’t realize the placement and integration formula,” Rossmeisl says, noting there is a certain amount of research and obsession that goes into finding the right mix. “There is a perfect balance there that we strive for and evolve with as it’s often a moving target.”
Social gaming shouldn’t be based on assumptions but on guests’ trends. New locations, like the just-opened Kings Bowl Miami-Doral in Florida and the forthcoming Kings Seaport opening in Boston this fall, feature even more options, like live music rooms, movie theaters, and private karaoke suites.
“Our guests weren’t satisfied with just bowling. They want and deserve more,” he says. “We realized that we were selling ourselves short by billing ourselves as just a bowling alley. We have added so many different social gaming facets to our business and realized that this entertainment mix was vital to our growth.”
Provide proper staff training
Knowledgeable staff members at Kings are key to success, Rossmeisl says, so a guest can make the most of their time.
“In a 25,000-square-foot facility with as much as Kings has going on, if you don’t have a guide, you may miss something,” he says.
So staff must be properly trained to understand each entertainment and food offering to guide guests, as well as provide feedback about what those guests are looking for when they come in for the night.
“Our guests are our investors and our staff are our shareholders,” Rossmeisl says. “If you listen to the valuable feedback from your shareholders and give back to your investors, you win.”