oPPosite, Left: Branch Line in Watertown,
massachusetts, maintains its outdoor bocce court
oPPosite, right: roxy’s central/a4cade is a
cambridge, massachusetts, restaurant, bar and arcade
collaboration of two restaurant groups, roxy’s and area
four, with arcade games.
aBove, cLocKWise from toP Left: 1) the game
room at chicago’s old town Pour house launched in
September 2017 to encourage private-event rental.
2) the nine-seat vr chamber at Philadelphia’s mad
rex restaurant and virtual reality lounge serves
cocktails in iv drip bags with a straw. 3) When guests
at roxy’s central/a4cade buy game tokens from a
server, they are more likely to order food and drinks.
Though the dark wood and stone décor with a
suspended “crashed” plane and masked body heads
and vested torsos is somewhat medieval, the museum-like balance comes in the equally manifest “survivor” theme. Guests pay $1 per minute
to look through virtual reality goggles in the lounge or $2 per minute in the more
private and elaborately appointed nine-seat VR chamber. There, cocktails are served in
IV drip bags with straws, and patrons have lockers for personal items.
Why do it? “When you look around a restaurant today, what percentage are on their
phones?” asks partner/co-creator Michael Johnigean. “They need stimulation. It’s the
way America is today. We wanted to create a restaurant experience that when you come
in, you’re in awe. Your brain is stimulated.”
The VR technology is expensive, but also durable, he says, meaning maintenance
expense is not an issue. Each guest gets VR goggles into which a special cell phone fits.
The average time spent with the VR goggles is 15 minutes. Guests purchase ahead for
a specific time, after which a timer goes off.
A VR manager oversees the restaurant’s entertainment element, which includes
hiring a DJ to spin records. The food is also an experience, as the restaurant offers black
rocks heated to 550°F and brought to the table with sauces, spices and rare meats the
guests can cut and place on the rock to finish cooking, seasoning to taste. “They can
squeeze lemon and butter on the rock, put the steak on top, and that really brings the
flavor out. Every bite is hot, fresh and delicious,” Johnigean says.
Punch Bowl Social recently added a VR parlor called the VR Bazaar to its Austin,
Texas, location, with others to roll out soon. “The technology has finally caught up with
the opportunity,” says Thompson, who insisted that the parlor be open to the rest of the
space so people could look in and out. Groups of about six rent the parlor for an hour
at a time for $45, and share a VR headset from which they can play any of more than a
dozen games of various skill levels. The restaurant dedicates a tech support person and
a food and beverage server to the VR Bazaar.
“Anytime you can add an experience for guests, you are talking the language of the
millennial demographic,” Thompson says. “But they only frequent places with a great
deal of authenticity. Be cautious of how you integrate entertainment. Don’t come across
as inauthentic. Don’t make games an afterthought.”
JODY SHEE, AN OLATHE, KANSAS-BASED FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR, PREVIOUSLY WAS EDITOR OF A FOODSERVICE
MAGAZINE. SHE HAS MORE THAN 20 YEARS OF FOOD-WRITING EXPERIENCE AND WRITES THE BLOG WWW.SHEEFOOD. COM.