Vigilante—a casual-dining concept that opened in Austin, Texas, in February—is proving that eatertainment doesn’t have to be extravagant. With a relatively low cost of entry, compared to arcades and mini golf courses, the board game bar has spent elsewhere to make sure that every element, from the finger foods to the custom-made tables, were designed to enhance the gaming experience. “We’ve really paid attention to the game as a service product,” on par with the food and drinks, says CEO and co-founder Preston Swincher, comparing Vigilante to eatertainment concepts such as Topgolf and Dave & Buster’s. “We’ve built a place where people can take that hobby out of their living room.” —Lauren Hallow
Vigilante is divided into two sections. The gaming area features 12 tables that the founders designed for board gaming. Each has a tray with cup holders for food and drinks (saving the tabletop for game usage). The casual-dining area, which Swincher calls the “social hall,” has smaller tables for more intimate games, such as cards, along with two large U-shaped booths for group games like Pictionary. Swincher says customers are greeted by a host who asks what type of gaming experience they’re looking for and then seats them appropriately. Vigilante also has two “secret” gaming rooms hidden behind fake bookcases that customers can rent for private sessions.
Food for fun
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Swincher reached out to donors for their opinion on the menu. “They wanted a full restaurant experience,” he says. The result: a menu made up of finger foods—including sliders, skewers and hand rolls—so guests can eat and play at the same time. Swincher isn’t concerned that customers will just hole up at a table with a game for hours and not order food. He says 60% to 70% purchase food, and even more—at least 80%—buy alcohol.
Dealing staff in
The gaming component has had a “dramatic” impact on operations and staff training, Swincher says, compared to training for a traditional restaurant. He hosted a three-hour seminar for his staff on how to teach customers games, and when new games are added, staff test them out during the preopening staff meal. In the gaming area, each of the tables features a service button that, when pushed, activates a robot-looking figure above each table, which will light up and wave its arms to grab servers’ attention. “If I’m a server, I don’t want to bother you when you’re focusing on a game,” Swincher says.
Upselling an experience
Vigilante’s game library contains anywhere from 160 to 180 games. Customers can peruse the game menu on Vigilante’s website, where the selection can be filtered by number of players, category, atmosphere (such as social or competitive) and length of playtime. While games can’t be reserved in advance, staffers are trained to recommend games, so they can help guests find a similar match if the one they had in mind is unavailable. Vigilante charges a $5 fee per person to access the gaming library, which Swincher says goes toward game maintenance—staff duties include checking games for missing pieces or damage and making repairs when needed. There’s been some pushback to the fee on Yelp, but Swincher says the majority of customers have been satisfied with paying for activities.