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Dave & Buster's looks to virtual reality for a sales lift

The chain is also testing a fast-casual option within its restaurants.

Dave & Buster’s is betting a dose of virtual reality will make its financial performance appear a whole lot better.

But the restaurant-arcade hybrid isn’t neglecting the food side of its business, even as it prepares to roll out VR games that’ll cost $5 a pop to play. The concept is also experimenting with a fast-casual option within its restaurants, for patrons who want to grab a quick bite and get back to shooting aliens.

The chain disclosed the plans for what executives termed a year of transition after posting a 5.9% decline in same-store sales for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 4. The food and beverage component of D&B’s comps fell 7.8%, while game sales were down 4.2%.

Still, “The most dramatic aspect of the trend was the slowdown in amusements,” CEO Steve King told financial analysts. “Our new amusement offerings proved less compelling than the comparable offerings in the year-ago quarter.” D&B’s comps for that period rose 3.2%.

Guests were less satisfied with their overall experience than they were a year ago, acknowledged King, who described the games featured during the most recent quarter as being less engaging. A year ago, the spotlight was on a modern-day version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, a boxing match between robots controlled by the players.

This year, the featured attractions included a game based on the most recent installment of the “Tomb Raider” movie franchise.

D&B's intends to reinvigorate the appeal of its arcades by rolling out a virtual reality game by midyear and a second later in 2018. The executives would not reveal the themes. They asserted the attractions should help the top line both by attracting customers and generating $5 with every play.

“It will be a big bang,” said King.

Meanwhile, the chain is also working on its food and beverage service. “Speed is synonymous with service for many of our guests,” commented King.

In February, the chain cut its food menu by about 20% and its drinks listing by a greater percentage to improve execution and speed of preparation, he noted.

The concept is also testing a pay-at-the-table option within its full-service dining area to lessen the time guests are away from the arcade. “Pay at the table has gone much slower than we’d like, and much bumpier than we’d like,” said King, without providing details.

The other way to reduce friction is by offering a quick-service option within D&B’s cavernous buildings. Some patrons would welcome the opportunity to order food and drinks from their phone and pick it up at what King called a “quick casual” station.

The walk-up service is being tested in a few stores, the executives indicated. Some comments suggested that burgers are the signature menu item.

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