Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Board Game Cafes

I know it's not a new trend, but Board Game Cafes seem to be popping up more and more.

Locally, we have the AFK Tavern and Cafe Mox. And the AFK Tavern has expanded to a second location, to be called "AFK Elixirs and Eatery."  We also have the Ray Gun Lounge, but I don't know if they're still serving food or not.

In fact, that's what I was hoping to write about today: AFK's new location. In fact, it's about five minutes from my day job. I've been watching for news, because I'm always looking for a good place to have lunch. And I did usually like the food at the AFK Tavern. So I was actually excited when I saw this on Facebook:

Sadly, when I headed there on my lunch, I was greeted with this:

If you can't read it, it says (with grammar errors and typos intact):

Important Notice
We, AFK slayed The Keg! It is no more. It was
however worth less experience than we thought so
we are still trying to grind out this level before
we open.

Confused? It's okay, we still love you for who you are. Who are we? How rude
of us...allow us to introduce our selves! We are AFK Elixirs and Eatery, the
southern little sister of the wildly popular AFK Tavern in Everett --
The Geek and Nerd Bar.
We do everything from classic board games, Xboxes, to just being a little
strange.  Sound like you're kinda place? Well keep informed with and we should be throwing open our doors soon
for you wonderful people so you may come enjoy a cold drink and a
1.5 pound prime flat iron steak!

-The AFK E&E Opening Team

The "Slayed the Keg" line is because the location used to be a Keg restaurant.

They actually posted a postmortem of their first day of beta here.

What's not posted anywhere I could find is what their normal hours are going to be. So I still don't know if I'll be able to head there for lunch from time to time.  During their beta, they are open from 6pm until 2am.

I wrote about my first experience at the AFK here and my second visit here. I've been there a handful of times since. Their service is consistently slow when they get busy, but the food continued to be tasty.

I haven't actually written about the Cafe Mox, yet - I should remedy that at some point. My thumbnail is "Similar to AFK with a different menu and fewer tables."

Gaming cafes are inherently a weird idea. I know they're around. I know they're successful. Last year at GenCon, we drove past one that was planning to open soon. I have friends in Montreal who run one.

But think about this:

How do restaurants make money?  The simplistic answer is "they sell food."  But there's more to it than that. You need to "turn tables" to make enough money to stick around.  In plain English, you need people to eat and then leave so you can get more people at that table to order more food.  If I go to a restaurant and sit for six hours nursing a small soda while wait times stack up, then I'm not making you money.  I'm costing you money.

So that table in the corner playing Diplomacy?  They're not going to make you much money unless you impose a minimum food/drink order. And, even then, they'll probably make you less money than if they left and gave you a new set of hungry people - because they'll eat slowly and scrape by at the minimum until they're done.

In other words: You'll have all of the concerns that a "normal" restaurant will have. That is, you need to decide on the quality of your food and its portion size against the prices you charge for your food.  You need to make sure you're charging enough to cover your rent, utilities, food, wages, and other supplies.  And - speaking of wages - you need to have enough staff that customers don't suffer through long waits. Oddly, this means that the better your staff, the less staff you need. Because a good server can handle more tables than a rookie can. But if you have too few staff, then your wait times will surge - and you need to be prepared for the occasional unexpected surge.

Add to all of this the fact that a game cafe needs to have games, and games aren't free. As an added bonus, you can't let your library stagnate, either.  So there's additional up-front expense and additional ongoing expense. Some publishers will send you free copies of games if you ask nicely, because having your games being played is good publicity.  Some game stores will work with you, too. But you still need to have games.

And - as we all know - games + food = need for game replacement. So you not only need games, you need to be able to replace them when they have soda spilled on them. Of course, if you have a "you soaked it, you bought it" policy in place, you're off to a good start.

The "games" part of the equation means that - realistically - you need to make more money than a comparable restaurant does. Not a ton more, mind you, but enough that it's something to keep in mind.

You know - in case you were thinking about opening a cafe of your own.

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