When the owners of popular Milwaukee pizzeria Pizza Shuttle added an old-time photo booth to their dining room, they weren't expecting a lot.
Boy, were they in for a surprise.
"I thought we would do maybe 5 pictures a day, but we are doing about 30 a day," said Mark Gold, who co-owns Pizza Shuttle with partner Louie Siecinski. "I can't believe how well it's going."
Booth users range from college kids looking for a memento to baby boomers seeking a piece of nostalgia. He's surprised, he said, that in this day of computers and social Web sites, people still like to perch themselves on a stool and have fun in front of a mechanical camera.
The partners paid about $7,000 for the Face Place Photo Booth, designed by Garwood, N.J.-based Face Place in cooperation with Polariod. The restaurant earns $1.50 for every $2 set of photos taken.
"At that rate, we'll have earned back the cost of the booth in less than a year," Gold said. "After that it will be pure profit."
Deciding what to play
For pizzeria owners, dining room attractions such as photo booths, video games and other devices can be a good way to boost revenue while keeping customers entertained.
However, before an operator purchases a game and plugs it in, there are a few things to consider, said Lutz Reissmann, owner of Lexington, N.C.-based Arcade Games. One of the first things to think about, he said, is what type of games to offer.
"The kids today are so well versed in the Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo Wii that a lot of times the arcade games just don't interest them," he said. "Mom and dad may have just spent several hundred dollars to put in a system at home, and it may be a quarter or a dollar to play the game. If it's not something the kids see a value in, it's going to be hard to get that quarter out of them."
Reissmann recommends driving games as a starter, because home systems don't match the experience of an arcade driving game. Shooting or deer-hunting games are popular as well, although those types of games raise additional questions.
"In areas like Minnesota and Michigan and upstate New York, those types of games do very well," Reissmann said. "In the Bible Belt, those games may not go over at all."
For an operator adding his or her first game, Reissmann recommends going with a reconditioned system rather than a new game.
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"Why go out and spend $7,000 for a video game when you can buy one used for $2,500 and make almost as much money," he said. "The $7,000 one may be old news in 6 months and you are out all that money."
Operators with room for more games should consider redemption games, or those which dispense tickets that can be redeemed for prizes, Reissmann said.
"The games that give out tickets are tremendous money generators and they don't break down as quickly," Reissmann said. "Also, you can change the quality of your game prizes much more affordably and much more regularly than you can change the game itself."
The potential payoff
Few pizzeria operators have reaped the benefits of dining-room attractions better than Irving,
How to add a dining-room attraction
Add two or three games instead of just one. If there is a long wait to play a game, chances are a kid will leave your operation unhappy because he or she didn't get a chance to play
Prepare for a trade-off. While you may gain the family group as new customers, you may lose the mature couple who may be looking for a quiet restaurant.
Keep it separate. A separate game room can help keep the game noise out of the dining room.
Visit your competitor. Spend some time at an arcade or another restaurant that has a game room to see what the kids are playing
Think about maintenance. Games break down. Either be prepared to do some maintenance yourself or line up someone to handle it for you.
Texas-based CEC Entertainment Inc., parent company of Chuck E Cheese. CEC Entertainment
operates 487 corporately-owned and 44 franchised Chuck E. Cheese restaurants.
More than 34 percent of the $774 million in revenue CEC recorded in 2006, or about $263 million, came from the games in their restaurants.
"As different as kids are today from our first guests in 1977, there's still that child-like desire to have fun — it's the eternal constant that drives our success," said Dick Frank, CEC Entertainment chairman and CEO. "What's more, our game and ride tokens are still 25 cents — the same price as 30 years ago, and all of our games and rides are only one token per play, so our stores provide great fun at an excellent value to guests."
The company is slated to open 10 new stores in 2007, and plans to remodel more than 150 restaurants by the end of the year. Much of the $56 million the company plans to invest in updating its restaurants will be spent on replacing older games and adding additional ones.
"We try to keep fresh new games in each restaurant and keep them rotated so we keep everybody challenged," said Brenda Holloway, marketing manager for CEC Entertainment. "Kids have become much more sophisticated and they're growing older at a younger age."