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Consumers have become bored at the sight of their own living rooms during the past couple of years as their entertainment, lifestyle and dining has been limited by COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

But a trend that was nascent before the arrival of the pandemic is warming up again. Eatertainment concepts, which offer dining, drinking and games, were trending before the pandemic and their coming back with a vengeance after being hit hard. According to Chicago-based market research firm Datassential, 82% of Americans have been to at least one type of eatertainment venue, with Millennials the demographic most likely to frequent them.

While concepts like Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Buster’s were pioneers, trending venues offer everything from old-school games like bowling, shuffleboard and golf to high-tech competitive gaming. According to Datassential, 50% of consumers believe these venues provide value since they double as a place where they can eat and enjoy a fun activity. 

Sports & Social

HQ: Baltimore, Md.

Entertainment: Enormous TV screens, golf simulator, ski ball, shuffleboard, mini bowling, foosball and Beirut.

Sports & Social opened its ninth and newest location in North Bethesda, Md., in September, and has plans to open around five new venues a year. The company launched in Louisville, Ky., in 2009.

For this concept, scouting locations close to professional sports stadiums and entertainment districts is key. Locations are scattered, from Pennsylvania to Texas, and future ones will be in states such as Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The public is ready for these concepts, says Judy Moore, senior vice president of marketing for parent company Live! Dining and Entertainment Districts. “People are looking for a complete experience, not just dining,” she says. “They’re coming for the social aspect of what we offer. We want them to stay in our four walls as long as possible.”

And while families are welcome, especially during the day, Sports & Social is geared toward the adult customer, with its focus on providing an elevated food and beverage experience. Familiar favorites like burgers are made with high-quality ingredients, there are local beers, and a curated cocktail menu. “We didn’t want to make it too upscale that people didn’t think it was something they could eat while watching the game,” explains Moore, who points out that especially in foodie cities, the menus must rival what is locally offered.

Sports & Social locations range from 7,000 to 30,000 square feet. And while each location looks similar, the company hires local designers so each has its own quirks and ties to nearby sports teams and players.

Tall ceilings are nonnegotiable at all Sports & Social locations to accommodate enormous LED screens that satisfy sports fans. Some of these are two stories tall, so guests can watch a game from two floors. All future locations will include an outdoor area, be it a patio or a rooftop, connected to the inside “so people can be part of the atmosphere from outside,” Moore says.

Given the size, it can be difficult to find locations for the brand, but some spots have opened up in the wake of the pandemic. The Pittsburgh location is attached to a mall and was previously a department store. When Sports & Social goes in, “the buzz around those communities comes back,” Moore says.

The games at Sports & Social are integral and change from venue to venue. While there are private rooms that can be booked for friends and family events, they are also popular for corporate events, and Moore expects that business to return in 2022. Otherwise, the games are scattered through the venue “to offer a social experience,” she says. 

Images courtesy of Sports & Social and Max Touhey

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