How Gaming Can Put Sizzle Back in Restaurant Eating

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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How Gaming Can Put Sizzle Back in Restaurant Eating

It's kind of a strange idea, but it's an idea whose time may have come as well. While some restaurants may have been on the downward slide lately, others are discovering a whole new life by bringing gaming into the picture, particularly in terms of an organization known as Buzztime, who's taking restaurant eating to a whole new level with gaming and interactive menus.

Buzztime offers a sort of two-pronged approach these days, offering tablets that contain not only a restaurant's menu but also a set of games built into the tablet to play while waiting for food to arrive. Now, the Buzztime system—including the recently-released Beond platform—is currently available for play in not only all 1,000 Buffalo Wild Wings locations, but also at a grand total of 3,000 total locations with a combined play count of 52 million games per year. Some places have seen staggering increases in business following the introduction of Buzztime material; one in particular, JR's Pub in South Carolina, saw a 30 percent jump in Tuesday night business.

Now, a bit of background; I have always loved gaming in restaurants, for about as far back as I can remember. Even at a young age, I'd often pester my parents to go to a local place—Damon's, it was called, a sort of barbecue joint that handled a lot of bar food and the like—not because I was particularly enamored with the cuisine, but because it had trivia games. I loved the thought of being able to go somewhere, have dinner, and not only while I was waiting but while I was eating and even for a while thereafter, being able to compete in an interactive trivia game in which I was taking on adults. For a guy just barely closing in on teenagerdom, the opportunity to stick it to a roomful of grownups was too tempting to pass up.

These days, gaming in restaurants is about the only place outside of Las Vegas and a few other specialized locations that the concept of the video arcade is preserved. You want an arcade these days, chances are you're in a Dave & Buster's or the like. But one thing that's becoming increasingly clear is that, despite the advances in home console systems and the like, people do still enjoy playing games head-to-head, and even sometimes with strangers. That competitive spirit is still alive and well, and the end result is that devices like Buzztime can do well in the field.

Even when the idea of full-on competitive gaming doesn't factor in, it still makes sense. Casual games—for examples just have a look at Kongregate or Armor Games—make a terrific way to pass the time while waiting for one's food to arrive, and it's particularly useful when dining alone. There's no one to talk to, and not much to do, so why not fire off a few Angry Birds at pigs while waiting for your chicken bacon sandwich? Sure, some might take the opportunity here to reflect on the day's events or consider tomorrow's, but not every day is sufficiently weighty as to allow for that kind of thought. So throwing in some simple rounds of Pac-Man or Galaga or any of a thousand such games would make some sense.

Gaming has a real potential to light a fire under restaurant eating by making the experience about more than just food. Sure, food is vital to the experience, but the end result is that it needs to be about more than food. Much more. That differentiation may be all that stands between a successful restaurant and yet another vacant building. It may not have worked so well for Damon's—the last one in my area closed some time ago—but it was still a good idea while it lasted.