Human contact is becoming a luxury - The rise of participatory social eatertainment

A version of the following article first appeared in our July 2019 issue. That was before the pandemic put us in real-life social isolation. That social isolation has resulted in people's increased desire for IRL social experiences, making the new social eatertainment formula we first wrote about back then even more important to the success of community location-based entertainment venues today. We've updated the article, including some current data.

Technology has increasingly isolated us from real-life (IRL) face-to-face human contact. What used to be the dominant form of human connection has been replaced by the new ways we digitally communicate today with almost constant connectivity using instant messaging, social media, and other digital technologies. Some observers of the growth in using these communication technologies say we are on the precipice of a loneliness epidemic.

Trends are about basic needs, and people always value scarce things. Luxuries are either scarce or costly to obtain (in time, money, or effort). As a result of our growing use of digital communication, IRL human contact has become scarcer.

A New York Times article, "Human Contact is Now a Luxury Good," said we are now seeing a trend of the luxurification of IRL face-to-face human contact. The conspicuous human interaction of meeting up with people IRL is becoming a status symbol. It is especially becoming a status symbol for the higher socioeconomic who spend the least time with these digital devices.

People with a bachelor's or higher degree spend 1.5 hours less each day on digital leisure than high school graduates and 25% less time than people with some college.

Sherry Turkle has even written two books, Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together, about the impact of these communication technologies on our lives and relationships. She argues that the devices are exacting a steep toll in terms of people constantly choosing to interact with a variety of technologies other than ILR, including even using them with those people present at the same table, what she referred to as "separate togetherness."

Turkle's research about people and their relationships with mobile technologies has identified the effects digital technology is having on how friends and people interact in the world. She sees a trend called a flight from conversation brought about by texting and social media. Turkle says we, and especially children and younger adults, are developing conversation-phobia. What is happening is that people are preferring texting and posting on social media rather than talking on the phone or having face-to-face conversations. She's asked teens and adults why they preferred text messaging over face-to-face conversation. They responded that when they are face-to-face, "you can't control what you are going to say, and you don't know how long it's going to take or where it will go."

It's increasingly clear that digital technology is shifting our social interaction with each other from taking place in the real world to the digital world. Consequently, ILR get-togethers, talking face-to-face, is rapidly becoming extinct. This means that what was once a primary reason for going out to leisure venues of all types, socialization, has lost its appeal, as that's what texting and social media on the smartphone are for.

Then along came the pandemic isolating people from having IRL contact with friends and acquaintances outside of their immediate household, increasing the value of IRL socialization now that the world has opened up. A current Harris Poll found that 61% of Americans say, "My concept of a happy life has changed since the pandemic," with 61% agreeing, "I now try harder to live in the moment." As a result, Americans now spend more purposefully on seeking joy and spending on experiences over things. Three-quarters (75%) are currently seeking to spend on occasions they can do with friends and family.

"The pandemic has made people think about life and death in a more powerful way, and so they are suddenly more aware of the value of experiences and more willing to spend money and time on them." James Wallman, CEO, The WXO

Today, at the newer-model entertainment venues, food and drink make up the majority of the revenues. Destination-worthy, culinary quality scratch food that is foodie-worthy with qualities of adventure, discovery, uniqueness, memorability, and Instagrammability, along with beer, wine, craft cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks combined with participatory social games creates a compelling IRL social destination, what we call "social participatory eatertainment" (unfortunately, since we wrote the original article, these type venues have taken on the name competitive socializing that fails to capture the importance of food and beverage to the formula.)

SeverRooms/YouGov 2019 research found that 62% of adults prefer visiting an eatertainment venue for a night out with their friends. The attractiveness of participatory social eatertainment is confirmed by PSFK's 2019 research that found that 69% of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that creates a space that encourages them to hang out and socialize. The social participatory games combined with destination-worthy food and drink facilitate hanging out, as to socialize, people generally need to be eating something, holding a drink in their hands, or participating in a social game. Think about bowling, golf, billiards, and bocce - they have all stood the test of time as they facilitate a social experience. Social participatory eatertainment combines them all together as a powerful social attraction. We believe this is making social participatory social eatertainment popular and driving the growth of its different business models, especially now that the world has opened up for out-of-home leisure experiences.

Today, to be financially successful, a community LBE needs to generate 30% or more of its revenues from group business. The one thing you will never be able to do on the internet is to hold IRL group events. Social participatory eatertainment has a competitive advantage in attracting group business. Research by Technomic found that 70% of consumers prefer to visit eatertainment venues than typical casual dining restaurants for group occasions. "When they get together in groups they want to do something and eatertainment is meeting that need," said Technomic managing principal Joe Pawlak. Those group and celebratory events can range from birthday parties (not just for children), corporate groups, team building, anniversary parties, and award ceremonies to even weddings.

The new social participatory eatertainment business model explains how disruptive chains such as Top Golf, Flight Club, and Puttshack are grabbing market share from legacy business model LBEs and FECs.

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