The evolution of eatertainment—from the kid-focused animatronic robots of Chuck E. Cheese’s to the grown-up playgrounds of Dave & Buster’s, Pinstripes and more—has spelled opportunity for Punch Bowl Social. The growing brand, which plans to open 10 new units over the next year and a half, is known for its from-scratch kitchen and craft cocktail program as well as its wide selection of games.
“We’ve determined we work best in urban and quasi-urban environments. The pure suburban play doesn’t work well for us,” says Punch Bowl Social CEO Robert Thompson. “We’re most successful when we have ‘free-range millennials.’ They’re living in their natural habitat in urban environments and that is where we really excel.” Even as millennials age and become family-focused, Thompson doesn’t see Punch Bowl Social making a major play to attract the kiddie demographic. “Millennials still demand an authentic experience,” he says. “As millennials become families, they may decrease their frequency. … Gen Z is developing its own identity, but it’s still heavily influenced by millennials.” The units, some around 30,000 square feet, also thrive when they’re near a central business district, Thompson says. About 25% of the brand’s revenue comes from private events.
Design is so central to Punch Bowl Social’s makeup that it stopped outsourcing architecture and design last year, bringing a team in-house to focus on a brand aesthetic Thompson calls “dirty modern,” a mish-mash of lodge, industrial, Victorian, midcentury modern and other styles. Details vary by location, but the Punch Bowl Social vibe holds steady.
The brand is testing a modern Mexican menu at its new San Diego unit, Thompson says, that will likely roll out systemwide. It features dishes such as fried avocado and squash blossom tacos. “Mexican is the ultimate Americana,” he adds.