Ready player one: How have pub games evolved?

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Interactive strategy: whether it's via darts of computer games, keep 'em entertained
Interactive strategy: whether it's via darts of computer games, keep 'em entertained
In the past a drink and a game of dominoes was all a pub had to do to keep a regular’s custom. Now the bar is set much higher and the expected experience is key.

Let me entertain you

What are the different types of games that could draw more custom at your premises? Here’s a quick run-down of what you could be offering and how to expand on the theme.

  • Pool and darts​ – traditional pub games that offers great competition. Make it work for you by introducing tournament matches, a team to take on other pubs and introduce finger food so people can snack while playing.
  • Arcade games​ – a throwback to your Generation X customers’ youth and, of course, your younger customers were pretty much playing computer games since they were born. Make it work for you by projecting multi-player games on to a white wall so others customers can watch the action and create a greater atmosphere.
  • Quizzes​ – teams need players so that means plenty of footfall and that has to equal more sales. Make it work for you by hosting quizzes on a regular basis so punters know when it will also be taking place. And make it easier to keep the tills ringing with table service.
  • Table tennis​ – although perhaps a more modern newcomer to the pub scene. Places like Bounce have made the game their own. Make it work for you by adding a table to an underused area but still has easy access to food and drinks.
  • Karaoke​ – tonight Matthew, put your punters in the limelight so they can show off their singing talent. Make it work for you by making it a regular event and bringing in an expert to host the night.
  • Fruit machines​ – a classic in the armoury of entertaining customers, especially as they wait for their friends to rock up. Make it work for you by adding a machine or two within sight of the bar to stay on the right side of the licensing objectives.
  • Cinema​ – although the initial cost may be a head scratcher, a pub cinema can bring in lots of people and is a consistent revenue stream. Make it work for you by making film nights specific to a theme and look to offer it to parents and children for morning screenings.
Entertainment (1)

Throughout the years, pubs have, of course, relied on drinks to bring people through the door but there are other ways of making sure you appeal even more to the public.

Food is an obvious choice but games have also played their part too. Think back to when you first went into a pub. Pool tables, dartboards and fruit machines played a part in many lives when they first reached legal drinking age, and most people will remember certain people because they were always the ‘winner stays on’ at the pool table or ‘that bloke who’s always on the fruity’.

So what now? Many Millennials and Generation Z groups are allegedly taking a swerve on beer and other alcoholic beverages to the extent that the pub has had to diversify in a big way.

Low and no-alcohol drinks are on-trend and it is the experience at the pub you must now provide.

Darts has come a long way since Bullseye but, essentially, the game is still the same – there are just fewer speedboats being dumped in landlocked counties across the country.

Flight Club is a five-strong chain that labels itself as “the birthplace of social darts”.

Co-founder Steve Moore explains: “We’ve taken the traditional game of darts and supercharged it.

“Our venues are so inclusive it doesn’t matter who you are or if you are any good at the game – any mix of people can turn up and have a really good time. ­That’s why we attract such a broad range.”

The arrows-themed business, which stepped to the oche in 2015, has five sites – three in London, one in Manchester and one in Chicago, US. It has used Victorian heritage as the basis for its decor, yet has modernised way beyond the technology that was available when Jocky Wilson and Eric Bristow were throwing darts in the 1980s.

Fast-paced multi-player games, dart tracking technology – allegedly built by a rocket scientist – and instant scoring means you don’t need to be Carol Vorderman to get by.

With a step-change in the pub game well and truly happening, Moore reveals what he thinks people want from an entertainment venue.

“People are looking for something different from their nights out, new experiences they can share with their friends.

“We love traditional pubs but the next iteration will see them step up the entertainment value if they are to appeal to a wider audience.

“Innovation is written into our business objectives. Our venues are booked up ­five months in advance but we don’t take this for granted – you’ve got to keep innovating and keep it interesting to make sure your guests have a spectacular time.

Interactive strategy

The Laine Pub Company runs 35 sites in Brighton, East Sussex, and 25 in London – with the Four Thieves, Battersea, London, as one of its stand-out venues, which opened in September 2014. The site is a wet-led pub with microbrewery on-site and home to a vast range of interactive games, including a huge remote-controlled car racing set-up, an escape room game, a virtual reality area, crazy golf, arcade machines, pinball, table football and more.

Management partner Carly Piggott explained: “People come to us for a completely unique experience. As far as we know, there isn’t another venue where you can drink craft beer brewed on-site, have an immersive virtual reality experience, race your friends with remote-controlled cars and play crazy golf under one roof.”

And the venue doesn’t sit on its laurels, even with so much on offer to keep customers entertained. It has a huge gin range, craft beers from other brewers, plus a street food and Latin inspired menu that includes burgers chimichurri steaks and house-made tacos – and a vegan offer has been received well in recent times.

Piggott explains: “The culture of pubs and bars in the UK has changed dramatically over the recent years and it’s not enough to simply have a strong food and beverage offer.

“Customers are looking for memorable experiences they can enjoy with others and moments to share on social media.”

Appy talk

Technology is at the forefront of many burgeoning initiatives and smartphone app MatchReader is no different.

MatchReader is a quiz for use at pubs screening live football matches.

Users make predictions through a Facebook Messenger bot on how they think the match will go, including fulltime score, half-time score, number of red cards and so on – with immediate prizes on offer such as drinks that can be redeemed via a QR code and even Premier League match tickets.

Adam Castleton, chief executive of Startle, the company that has created MatchReader, says: “It’s imperative venues offer something a little bit different. Consumers will want to arrive ahead of time to play against friends and family. Regardless of their football knowledge anyone has the ability to take part.”

The ethos of offering free drinks to the victors is to encourage added on time at the pub.

Entertainment (3)

Never board

Award-winning pub concept The Box in Leeds has enjoyed success since installing two 22ft maple wood shuffleboard tables from SHUFL.

The venue offers half-price gaming on Mondays and Sundays to encourage footfall at traditionally quieter periods, and Wednesdays are tournament days where the victor can win a bar tab.

SHUFL chief executive Dafydd Evans explains: “Today’s pubs are having to adapt and evolve rapidly to keep pace with changing consumer behaviour in order to thrive in an uncertain economy.

“SHUFL satisfies the demands of the experience-driven younger generations, who want active, memory-making socialising, which involves less alcohol consumption and prioritises quality over quantity.

“We provide pubs and bars with premium experiential entertainment, which significantly increases footfall, dwell-time and revenue.”

Drama queen

Converting an unused upstairs space to provide three table tennis tables and a party room – and constructing split levels in a storeroom to create a cinema – has given craft beer pub the Queen of Bradgate an unrivalled offer.

Star Pubs & bars licensee Matt Saunders explains: “It feels like we’ve opened a second venue but without paying any extra rent or rates. The demand for both the ping pong as well as private party hire is staggering. We’re fully booked Fridays and Saturdays.”

He says the inspiration to bring table tennis to his site in Leicester came from the success of venues in London.

And on the 24-seater vintage-style cinema, which was a 5m x 9m space, he says: “We put in the best sound system to get a big cinema feel and bought a slush machine and retro popcorn machine maker.”

Cult classic films are screened on Thursdays for £15 a head, which includes a glass of Prosecco or a pint of craft ale but the most popular time is when it is used for children’s parties at weekends – and it doesn’t require any extra staffing costs.

Saunders summarises: “To do something similar you need to have the room and to make it special with its own unique character. It’s quite an investment but done well it’s well worth doing because it attracts Millennials and families looking for a different experience.”

Entertainment (2)

Copy success

If a business wants to emulate the success of these companies, it needs to take action sooner rather than later.

Flight Club’s Moore claims: “As a CEO, you shouldn’t be the most experienced, creative or knowledgeable member of your team.

“Build a diverse community of individuals who have expertise in the areas that you lack. Whether it’s their experience, ideas, imagination or testing our latest products – the Flight Club family has been integral to the evolution of the business.

“Our venue teams are crucial in helping us to stand out in this industry – they’re passionate and have allowed us to build a strong community of engaged customers.

“We’re also pretty unique – our brand proposition is strong, we constantly innovate and keep improving our technology.”

And on future plans at the Four Thieves, Piggott reveals: “We are looking forward to adding more interactive elements and games into the arcade as well as broadening our events programme.”

So although it’s not ‘game over’ for traditional boozers, it definitely can’t hurt to offer something extra if it brings more people through the door.

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