Punch Bowl Social, the US experiential bar and restaurant concept, has confirmed to MCA it is searching for property in London for its first international site, with the potential four or five sites in the capital.
Founder and chief executive Robert Thompson told MCA he was considering a large central London venue, of up to 25,000sq ft, followed by a few smaller format versions.
The entrepreneur, whose 15-strong concept is backed by L Catterton, has retained CBRE as agents, and has already visited Kings Cross, Battersea and Borough Market areas for a potential 2020 opening.
Thompson said the games and F&B offer would be tailored to the London market, with possible emphasis on soccer billiards, and the company’s in-house darts technology.
He argued the concept’s broad, “all things to all people” approach to games gave it a competitive advantage over single game concepts, such as a Swingers and Flight Club.
Punch Bowl Social charges a nominal, below market rate for games, to encourage longer linger time, and meaning 89% of sales revenue comes from food and beverage.
The concept is aimed at millennials and Generation Z, and typically located near family residential and corporate office areas, with craft drinks and high-end comfort food.
Thompson founded the business in 2012 and has since grown it to 15 sites, with each new venue costing c$5m (£3.8m) and around 30,000sq ft.
Speaking about the business model and the London potential, Thompson told MCA: “We think it’s right this is our first international location. We think it might work more broadly across the UK, but London is the logical starting point.
“I think it’s a multi-unit market for us, based on population alone - not to mention it being a great market culturally.
“It might manifest as a large box in central, than we might sprinkle some smaller box formats and extend it out of the centre. It feels like it could be a four or five unit market.”
Thompson said there were active conversations happening about locations, while the company could seek out local operating partnerships.
He said: “In terms of specific trade areas, we’ve been over twice, and have contemplated Kings Cross, Borough Market, Battersea, as well as some other areas.
“We appreciate industrial type venues, but they’re not always available. If we can find a landlord partner to develop something like that we would - but it’s going to have to make sense from a population density mix.
“We don’t currently do any franchising – it’s all corporate. That’s not to say we won’t seek out operating partnerships with a London operator to make sure we don’t step in the cow manure. It may be helpful to look at that type of relationship.”
Thompson said Punch Bowl Social’s broad mix of games, and high revenues from food and drink made it stand apart from its US and UK peers.
He said: “Swingers, Flight Club and Puttshack are great niche ‘eatertainment’ brands, but we like to think with respect to our games offering, we try and be all things to all people.
“We have indoor putting in our concepts, we have bowling, we have darts technology for scoring, and other applications like private karaoke.
“But the most important thing is the F&B offering at Punch Bowl Social. Our competitors in the US operate about 50% of revenue on gaming, whereas we are 89% F&B. We have developed a scratch kitchen culinary and a craft beverage programme which really stands on its own and differentiates us from our competitors.
“Everything we do from a concept modelling standpoint is to drive further F&B sales. To the extent we have gaming activations, they’re there to attract customers who will also eat and drink.
“Consumers pay for games, but we try and price them nominally below market, to inspire additional linger time.”
The offering, including games, food and drink, will be modified for the local audience, but the concept will remain broadly the same, Thompson said.
“From a design standpoint, we believe we operate on the edge, and we’ll continue to push the envelope in that regard, and always try and do something new and interesting.
“In terms of F&B, I think it would be arrogant to assume that we don’t need to customise for our local audience, so that’s what we intend to do.
“The fundamentals are there for us in terms of an operating culture, which lends itself to be able to modify and nuance the menu for the palate of the London audience.”
Meanwhile he said the approach to property and the target demographic would follow a similar model to the US.
“We take some of the learnings from the way we position real estate in the US, and our audience in UK is still going to cater for millennials and Generation Z - that’s our primary set.
“We look for real estate where there’s a combination of high density residential, in multi-family housing, combined with some adjacency to a central business district, so we can get both a la carte sales, plus corporate event traffic.
“We are always looking for different ways to activate with games, and we are currently looking at a soccer billiards game, a foot driven billiards game - we think that’s something might play well in London.
”With our darts tech, that’s a meaningful activity in the UK, so we may end up expanding that footprint for the UK market. We will research and make sure we are customising the games for the London market.”