The pandemic hit most restaurants hard, but Dave & Buster’s Entertainment, which operates 144 venues across 40 states in North America, was uniquely affected by Covid-19. For one, the chain’s takeout business reflects a low percentage of sales due to its format, games-centric occasions and logistical challenges.
The large store footprints — on average 41,000 sq. ft. per location — rely heavily on guest traffic. Customers tend to be drawn to entertainment attractions centered around playing games and watching live sports and other televised events, so food and beverage occasions are not the main traffic drivers for the brand.
And despite a menu refresh prior to the pandemic that simplified both the number of beverages and improved the quality, consumers still did not give Dave & Buster’s credit for great-tasting drinks.
Business conditions following the Covid-19 shutdowns further challenged Dave and Buster’s.
Restaurant operators had to deal with large menus and limited staff, not to mention dated brand imagery that no longer conveyed excitement and invited trial. It was time for a full revamp to create a beverage program that:
- Elevates the guest experience.
- Provides the guest with variety across multiple taste
- profiles and flavor options, maximizing consumer reach.
- Maintain high velocities and speed of service.
- Drives incremental food and beverage sales.
- Refreshes imagery to be enticing, fresh and new.
- Provides a baseline for activation opportunities.
- Gives employees new news to talk about.
Where to start? Dave & Buster’s began with rigorous consumer research on both attitudes, perceptions and sentiments for its offerings, and then a TURF (Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency) study that resulted in a new menu approach.
Core customers and Explorers
The research helped identify two consumer segments for the restaurant brand: Core, which are “driven-to-win instigators” drawn to classic, elevated cocktails, classic wines by the glass and American light lagers; and Explorer, “fun-loving connectors” that always love to try the latest fun and innovative drinks, canned wine and craft beers.
Dave & Buster’s launched a new menu in two waves, in November 2021 and January 2022,
that was structured to appeal to target consumers in each segment. The chain upgraded many of its tequilas, gins and vermouths, as well as its garnishes and glassware, to deliver an elevated drink experience to guests. It simplified and streamlined many multistep drinks to deliver speed and quality.
The program outlined a quarterly limited-time offer (LTO) showcasing relevant flavors and trends by season and created a year-over-year testing process in which it tries out new items one year ahead of launch. Dave & Buster’s developed specialty cocktail lineup to reflect research, flavor and consumer approach.
For instance, the menu lineup is 70/30 Core/Explorer and 45/55 existing/new. The 19 cocktails offered by category include four Umami/Earthy/Smoky offerings (such as a Chocolate Bourbon Milkshake); three Citrus/Sour (such as a Strawberry Watermelon Margarita); five Sweet or Fruit Forward (like the Dangerous Waters tropical punch); two Refreshing/Crisp Clean (a Fresh Mojito); and five Liquor Forward (including the house Long Island Iced Tea).
Some of Dave & Buster’s other beverage program initiatives include:
- Revised printed beverage menus to showcase new cocktails, wine, spirits and booze-free beverages.
- Evolved merchandising and promotional approach to link to the brands’ “Million Dollar Midway” feeling. For instance, evocative imagery highlights the quality and drives appetite appeal, while bringing the Midway theme to life with bright colors and textural cues. Seasonal promotions include UFC, March Madness, Football Game
- Watches, Octoberfest and Holiday, while in-venue programming features Trivia nights and DJs for game watches.
- Team training to ensure consistent execution with such tools as a comprehensive bartender training manual, Cheat Sheets and Recipe Cards that include ServSafe food and alcohol safety training and certification so bartenders how many net drinks are in the recipe. Instructional videos provide step-by-step instructions on how to make all menu listed recipes and LTOs; discuss the drink flavor; emphasize how the drink looks when made with proper technique and garnish.
The chain also optimized its draft beer lineup nationally and regionally and revamped its wine list, including both bottle and portable can selections. The result was significant growth in the beverage attachment rate and both sales and profitability growth as well.
How significant? The new beverage menu highlights include a 3.5% increase in featured beverage mix; a 5% rise in featured beverage quantities; and a $0.48 increase in gross profit per drink sold. The effort also earned Dave & Buster’s the BevX Award for Best Overall Restaurant Beverage Program this year.
Dave & Buster’s has come a long way since game parlor operator Dave and restaurateur Buster joined forces and opened their first “eatertainment” venue in Dallas in 1982. The brand’s recent game plan and implementation have helped evolve its beverage program in a way that resonated in the post-Covid world and likely positioned Dave & Buster’s for continued growth.