We credit Kevin Williams and his very popular weekly enewsletter, The Stinger Report, for introducing the term "competitive socializing" to describe a fast-growing category of eatertainment venues. In his enewsletter, he says that competitive socializing "is a blending of a hospitality atmosphere married to a re-imagining of conventional competitive entertainment." He says the term has been used in the U.K. since 2015 to define pubs incorporating a circus entertainment vibe or bowling with food and beverage.
So, what exactly is a competitive socializing venue? First, it incorporates a particular category of competitive group entertainment experience that is highly social. Having an entertainment experience solo is entirely different than having the same experience with a group of people. Group experiences are shared experiences and typically about socialization. The dynamic of group validation is an essential factor that differentiates a group experience. The competitive group games that have stood the test of time have done so because of their strong socialization component. This is one of the main reasons bowling, billiards, miniature golf, darts, and even bocce and shuffleboard have stood the test of time. In these type games, group members validate the play of each other. One person plays while the others watch, comment on, and review that person's performance.
Bonding is an essential component of group social dynamics. Sharing food and drink is the oldest form of group bonding. It started when ancient man sat around the campfire sharing food and drink, and now it's encoded in our genes. This is why food and beverage is an essential component of any competitive socialization experience. Yes, competitive entertainment alone can offer group validation, but it doesn't provide the primal campfire bonding experience that food and beverage bring to the table. The combination of bonding through repeatable quality, even craveable food and drink offerings, and competitive entertainment is what makes competitive socialization a bonding experience with far greater appeal (and higher per-capita sales) than other types of entertainment experiences or just the competitive entertainment without the simultaneous food and drink.
Not all forms of competitive entertainment can become competitive socialization. Activities like laser tag, competitive arcade games, go-karts, ping pong, and escape games lack the rhythm of play where one person plays while the other group members watch, talk among themselves and eat and drink.
We are seeing new forms of entertainment become competitive socializing. Ax-throwing venues like Lazertron has developed definitely qualify as competitive socialization. TopGolf and other imitators have taken the solo driving range model and turned it into competitive socialization. Puttshack and Swingers have taken miniature golf and added food and drink in a very hospitable atmosphere to make it competitive socialization. Flight Club has done the same with darts.
High-quality socialization experiences that can't take place in the virtual world or in the coming metaverse will be a driver for out-of-home experiences in the post-pandemic new normal. As a result, the competitive socialization model should be one of the formulas for success in that era.