Operators cash in on Pokémon Go phenomenon

As the latest smartphone craze has seen people hunting around for Pokemons, foodservice operators are capitalising on the trend by attracting players, as Vicky Mayne discovers

Pokémon Go is the most downloaded app in the US and players are spending more time on it than Facebook or Twitter. Restaurant operators have been taking advantage of in-app functions that make their venue a Pokémon hotspot. One New York restaurant reported a 75% surge in sales over the weekend, after the manager spent $10 to lure a dozen Pokémon.

Developer Niantic will be incorporating this more officially in to the game on its next update, allowing companies to become a sponsored location.

These locations will be signals to players that there will be lots of Pokémon in the venue and at no cost to them. Niantic are planning on making their money by charging companies per customer attracted by Pokémon Go. Companies are hoping to cash in on this with the Japanese unit of McDonalds having already struck a deal with Niantic to make all of its restaurants sponsored locations.

The premise of the game involves encountering Pokémon as you walk around and catching as many as possible. The game uses augmented reality to place Pokémon in the real world. It’s similar to the screen you’d get when taking a photo with the possibility of one of these creatures appearing in your sightline.

Embracing the trend

Prior to the announcement of the update, some restaurants have already been finding ways to use the app to attract more customers. Maxwell’s Bar & Grillin Covent Garden, London was one of the first restaurants to utilise the app.

“We’re a PokéStop and a PokéGym which means there are lots of Pokémon running around our venue,” says Anthony Knight, Marketing Manager for Maxwell’s Clubs, Bars & Restaurants. “We’re also using the app itself to drop lures that entice more of them in to the area. We’ve found that lots of customers are naturally coming to us in the hopes of finding Pokémon.”

“We weren’t anticipating 400-500 extra customers a day at the weekend but we’re riding the rollercoaster. We’ve had to rota on three extra staff for each shift.” They’re even encouraging their staff to get involved and share their tips with customers. “The morale and buzz around the restaurant means it’s an absolute pleasure to be there.”

Not all restaurants have found the app to be of benefit, however, with customers loitering outside their venue rather than dining. At Maxwell’s they’ve been trying some creative ways to get customers through their door including Pokémon inspired versions of their “freak shake” milkshake creations.

Maintaining momentum

There is the possibility that Pokémon Go’s popularity will fall just as quickly as it rose. One player has already caught all of the Pokémon available in North America, 142 of the 151. He’ll have to get on a plane to catch the rest since some are continent exclusive. Niantic have over 500 more Pokémon they could add to the game from the existing franchise. But while this offers many potential updates, no one is under the illusion that it is a long-term strategy. “we’re very much aware that it’s a trend. It will probably fade away, who knows when,” says Knight.

For now though, Maxwell’s are making the most of the Pokémon Go craze and will be hosting a Pokémon Go Lure Party at the end of July. “We’ve got 312 people so far and we’re going to have to limit it at 500.”

Augmented reality looks likely to stay in hospitality. Pokémon Go has proven that there is a broad audience who enjoy the blending of reality with the imaginary. Augmented reality apps could provide information, directions, or translations of text simply by pointing your phone’s camera at something.

Within foodservice it might appear in everything from ordering to pre-ordering. “There’s some really cool stuff out there where you can hold up your phone to an interactive table which then comes to life and you can see the chefs creating your dish and then the waiter brings it over and puts it in front of you,” says Knight. He is continuously visiting conferences with a focus on new technolgy to stay abreast of developments. “Our industry is so experience obsessed, so I travel to places like Japan and the US, looking at the biggest technology trends in hospitality and working out how we can embrace them and adopt them in to our restaurants.”

Vicky Mayne


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