Gameroom Guru – July 2024


Experience Is Everything!

George McAuliffe

By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Okay, I confess. I stole that headline from my friends at Brunswick Bowling. It’s a brilliant tag line: Experience Is Everything! The brilliance is that Brunswick manages to promote their company’s long history in bowling while planting the end goal for their customers: Brunswick’s experience will help you deliver the bowling experience. But, whether we’re talking about bowling or FECs in general, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The guest experience!

FECs of all types are in the business of delivering fun and the guest experience is their product. There are two tried and true ways to succeed in the FEC world: 1) get the guest to stay longer and 2) get them to return. A Disney seminar teaches that as “increased length of stay and repeat visitation.” You can’t have either unless the guest places a high value on the experience you are delivering.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s dust off the old Pinnacle “Value Equation” graphic to illustrate how the guest values the experience(s) we offer.

A visit to your center has to be fun, add memories, give them a fair “takeaway” (commonly, a fair shot at winning prizes) and, last but not least, a reasonable amount of entertainment time. If we hit those four targets, the guests will give us their money and will place a high value on the experience. In the best-case scenario, they won’t want the experience to end (increased length of stay) and they will be planning their next visit on the way home (repeat visitation).


The Guest Experience

FECs are more than just a collection of attractions, games, merchandise and food and beverage. Think of them as a stage upon which the audience is entertained. If that’s the case, let’s start by understanding the groups that comprise the audience.

People come to family entertainment centers for different reasons. Some come with their family, some with friends. Others attend parties or as part of a group, perhaps to bowl, play laser tag, to ride rides or have a meal. Can a family entertainment facility be all things to all people? It depends. Trampoline parks target a fairly narrow guest segment – younger kids and their families – and have a large party component. Dave & Buster’s targets a millennial-Gen X audience although they, of course, also appeal to families with children on weekends. The beauty of today’s FEC – and the redemption arcade contributes to this heavily – is that today’s games have wide age and gender appeal. If the stage is properly set, you can appeal to each segment of the audience on different days and times.

That wide appeal of arcade games and attractions like bowling, mini-golf, virtual reality and even laser tag is the major reason FECs are enjoying such popularity today. FECs are mostly “big box” buildings that are capital intensive – a huge percentage of the investment is at the front end. The more we can fill that box with paying customers the more successful we will be. “Day part” management, supported by “day part” sales and marketing, is how to do that. With the marriage of FEC and bowling, cinemas, hotel resorts, restaurants, bars, pizza restaurants and even sports centers, we can deliver an experience widely to a variety of guest groups, keeping our centers busy throughout our open hours.

Design Considerations

Designing for successful day-part marketing and operations starts with the facility. The best advice that I’ve heard for FEC design is “design for the adults – the kids are coming anyway.”

Most kids will be happy with the right mix of attractions, games and merchandise; they don’t really care about the décor package or light levels. In fact, if my grandson is any indication, he was done with Chuck E. Cheese at age 6 and by age 7, would rather be at Humdinger’s, a New Jersey BEC near his home with a more sophisticated vibe.

Speaking of light levels, building in the ability to control the light level, a little brighter on weekend days, dimmer as the evening wears on, can help quite a bit with maximizing business during the various day parts.

Bowling manufacturers have done wonders in recent years with day part appeal built into their equipment. League bowlers are great weekday guests, casual bowlers, which includes most corporate groups, at other weekday hours and families – almost entirely casual bowlers – on weekends. The introduction and scaling up of video, lighting and secondary bowling games like Brunswick’s Spark system help drive all those casual bowling guests and widen the audience.

Cinema entertainment centers have a variety of films appealing to different age groups. Hotels tend to have business guests on weekdays and families on weekends and holidays. Sports facilities have adult leagues weeknights and the younger age leagues and tournaments on weekends. You get the idea.

Fortunately, other attractions like mini-golf, laser tag, rides and arcade games – even redemption merchandise – appeal to that wide audience from kids to grandparents. The trick is in the selection, theming and design. When you get that right, you’ve set the stage for a great guest experience, and you’ll keep your audience coming through the doors.


George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.

Readers can learn more about Pinnacle at or contact George at [email protected]; phone: 314-422-7197.


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