Talking Shop is a new biweekly column covering retail happenings in and around Boston.
Eleven years ago, while working on his master’s degree in psychology at Boston University, Doug Warner took a bartending gig at the Kings bowling alley in the Back Bay. He never left.
Today, Warner oversees marketing for the Boston company, which has expanded to 10 locations in five states.
This week, he used that psychology degree to help usher in some changes at Kings’ 11th location, in Seaport Square.
The 20,000-square-foot, second-floor space has 16 bowling lanes, an arcade, and a separate restaurant with 40 craft beers on tap. Creating the stand-alone Draft Room was important for Warner, as it’s part of a push to make people get their head around the idea that grabbing a bite while they bowl shouldn’t be an afterthought.
“People have a hard time thinking bowling alley food could be good,” Warner joked. “But the food is all made from scratch, in-house, every day.”
When Kings Bowl America opened its first location, in the Back Bay 15 years ago, the concept of “boutique bowling” was enough to get people excited, said company founder Patrick Lyons. Now, with about six other upscale bowling businesses competing around the country, Kings has moved to distinguish itself as a entertainment destination. The company has a movie theater in its Burlington location and a live music venue in Tennessee. Those new business ventures, coupled with a focus on games, craft beers, and (edible) food are now reflected in the company’s new name: Kings Dining & Entertainment.
The arrival of Kings in the Seaport also signifies a shift for the neighborhood, which has become awash in food options over the past few years, but still offers little in the way of entertainment for its increasing mix of inhabitants, office workers, and visitors.
“What it brings to the Seaport is that entertainment option. There’s a lot of bars and a lot of great restaurants, but people are looking for things to do and looking to get together as groups,” said Kings’ chief operating officer, Joshua Rossmeisl. He said he hopes that last week’s opening of two adjacent clubs, the Grand and the Scorpion Bar Boston, and the forthcoming ShowPlace ICON movie theater, which will be housed above Kings, will help cement Seaport Square as a destination, as well.
With data, restaurants get smarter
Toast, a five-year-old startup in the Fenway, is trying to make the restaurant industry a bit smarter. Local restaurants like Eventide, Oath Pizza, Saloniki, and Tatte all use the company’s cloud-based management platform, which lets eateries track things like staff schedules, customer orders, and loyalty programs. Toast also does some tracking of its own, through an annual survey, and this year’s findings prove there’s a gap between what customers want and what restaurants believe is important.
When the company polled 900 restaurants and more than 1,200 guests who use Toast, a few discrepancies emerged:
Restaurant-goers ranked online reservations highest among their priorities when eating out, while restaurants ranked that feature seventh.
Customers said they were more willing than ever to use mobile pay or an app to pay for their tabs, while only 22 percent of restaurants offer mobile purchases.
Kiosk ordering was seen as beneficial to 49 percent of visitors, while only 39 percent of restaurants considered it valuable.
But one thing restaurants seem eager to consume is more data: Just two years ago, only 46 percent of restaurateurs looked at data and sales reports daily; today 78 percent of them check every day.
That’s a significant shift, and one that will ultimately benefit customers, said the company’s cofounder, Aman Narang. As recently as two years ago at most restaurants “when an online order came it in would go to a fax machine,” he said. “Now they’re starting to pick up on the fact that technology can be incredibly strategic.”
The gym is there for you
When hundreds of thousands of New Englanders struggled to live without power following last weekend’s storm, Planet Fitness stepped in to clean up — but not in the way you might think.
The Hampton, N.H.-based no-frills gym opened the doors at 45 locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island to anyone unable to take a hot shower. It also provided a safe space for people to warm up, recharge their phones, and let their kids play.
The company has had the goodwill policy in place for years, but it’s been rolled out more frequently of late. Franchisees in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico all opened their facilities to community members after hurricanes destroyed or damaged their homes.
Oh, and don’t expect a hard sell if you come in, said Bill Bode, senior vice president of franchise operations. “It’s an opportunity to connect with the community. It’s not a membership drive,” he said.
Do remember, however, that the gym is no-frills, so it’s BYOT — bring your own towels.Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.