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 7010 Easy Wind Drive, Ste 150      512-538-1516      Hours: 11 AM - 11 PM, Sun - Thurs, 11 AM - 2 AM, Fri - Sat

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One-Year Update: Growing Patronage, Healthy Pricing Changes and Loyalty Cards

Vigilantes!

Thank you for an amazing first year. We’ve had an incredible journey, learned a ton, and found happiness in helping people connect over games, food and beverage. Since opening, we’ve served over 40,000 guests; thank you for your patronage. This weird restaurant concept is finally starting to come into its own.

Progress Since October (tl;dr: it’s good!)

In October, we put out a call for help, explaining the many changes we had made and asking patrons for a second chance. We are so grateful that our community pulled through for us: after publishing the post, we saw an immediate 40% increase in sales. Our hard work is paying off: after fixing parking, rebooting our menu, rearranging the social hall and updating our service practices we are serving more patrons, receiving better reviews, and have a firmly established business model that is making gamers happy.

Pricing Changes

Vigilante’s biggest inherent challenge has always been turning tables. A successful restaurant will seat 3-5 parties at a single table over a busy night (about 45 minutes per party). Our average patron stays at Vigilante for 2-3 hours. Fundamentally, playing board games at a restaurant means that we can seat 1-2 parties per table, per night. This halves our effective seating capacity (especially during peak times), while also increasing our per patron service costs, which presents a huge challenge.

During year one, our strategy to counteract this was to serve quality food and drink to increase our patron’s average spending to support the business. Our scratch kitchen, four-course meal deal and relentless pursuit of higher food quality (plus the best beers Texas has to offer) have empowered us to compete with other Austin restaurants. However, now that we have a full year’s worth of data under our belts, it has become clear that the core value of adding board games to a restaurant is not in a game library, but in the space we provide and the duration of your stay. To ensure our long term health, we need to sell our actual core value.

After considerable additional research, we are adjusting our pricing model to mirror dozens of board game cafes across the country. As of April 16th (2 weeks from yesterday), we are updating our current Game Library Fee ($3) into a $5 “Game Night Fee” for all patrons:

  • This is a per-person fee
  • It covers unlimited access to our library for the duration of your stay
  • Patrons are welcome to bring their own games, but the Game Night Fee will still apply
  • This fee is effective after 4pm Monday – Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday
    • Our lunch special ($8 for two sliders and fries!) still includes free games!
  • There is a “Dine-In Exemption”: if your stay is under an hour or you sit at the bar you will not be charged
  • Free Game Night will still be held every Tuesday

We have never and never will ask a table to leave, because (as gamers) we hate the idea of interrupting someone’s experience with arbitrary limits. However, we must acknowledge that part of our core value is in the space we provide and the length of time our patrons enjoy that space. We believe this fee is commensurate to the value we present, and we hope our community agrees. For Vigilante to continue to serve Austin, we must adjust how we do business.

Loyalty Punch Cards (Earn Free Game Nights!)

We have an incredible group of core regulars that make Vigilante who we are, from the community members that supported our journey to the backers who funded our construction. Originally, we thought the Secret Society would be a great tool to help these patrons enjoy Vigilante. Unfortunately, The Secret Society didn’t give a lot of real value to our patrons, and was operationally challenging to maintain. Now that our original backer memberships have expired, we are replacing the Secret Society with a general loyalty punch card: for every 4 Game Night Fees you purchase, your 5th will be on us!

Full House Fee

Finally, we will also be implementing a Full House Fee. If Vigilante has a waitlist of patrons who desire a table (e.g. busy Friday and Saturday nights), tables who wish to stay for longer than 3 hours will be charged an additional $3/person. When in action, this policy will be clearly posted throughout Vigilante. We will warn these tables at the 3-hour mark and give them a 20-minute grace period to complete any game they are playing.

Final Thoughts

Vigilante is closer than ever to being a strong, sustainable business. The biggest contributing factor to this has been our patrons’ feedback. We work hard to listen to your wants/needs, and will continue to be transparent about how we are working to better serve Austin. Thank you all for your support, and we look forward to many more game nights in the future!

Cheers,

Preston

 

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APPENDIX

To help you follow our Gaming Fee internet research footsteps, here is a list of well-known board game cafes across the country, as well as links to their cover charge policies:

Categories: Blog

15 Responses

  1. This all seems good and reasonable. I think the idea of a blanket fee that covers me for the night for whatever I might want to do. The only thing that makes me go there far far less than I would like is the lack of fresh-brewed iced tea. My business partner and I tried it for working lunches a few times, and really want to bring in all our friends for an RPG event, but we’ve got two who are picky about iced tea. It’s never good from a bottle. As a result, all our working lunches in the area take place at the competition’s join. They have an utterly maddening music rotation that consists of 2 Irish CDs, and the Conan soundtrack, but we STILL go there. No fresh iced tea, no me. There are likely more people who feel this way than you think.

    • Vigilante says:

      Jeremy! Thanks for the feedback. We hear you: iced tea is on the way. We’ll be brewing it in house! Look for an announcement on our Facebook page in the next week or two (depending on when the equipment arrives!)

  2. Kris Umlauf says:

    You might want to consider a minimum spend “game night fee” exemption, when not during peak hours. I typically spend on average $30 in food and drinks (over an average 2 hour period) and bring my own games. Not sure how willing I am to spend another $5 on top of that (when I can get another beer instead at the competition around the corner).

    • Matt says:

      Yeah a pre-purchase for food and drink is the way Ive seen some bars handle that. Basically you buy a credit or token at the door.

    • Vigilante says:

      Thank you for the feedback. Unfortunately, a minimum spend does not solve the challenges we are experiencing. Our primary goal is not to oust tables that don’t spend, our goal is to reconcile our pricing model with the fact that the space itself is costly and provides its own value, and that we need our patrons to share in those costs and pay for that value.

      • Vigilante says:

        Many board game cafes charge covers for the use of their space and games; many of the costs of restaurant operations are covered by people who spend money on food and beverage. However, the costs of operating a board gaming restaurant are not. Gaming needs to have its own charge, as its costs are separate from those of the kitchen and bar.

  3. Brandon says:

    I agree with Kris, we’ve been having our bi-weekly game night here for about 6 months now. Looking back at my bank statements, I’ve spent on average $53 a night and I’m pretty sure the other 4 in our game do the same. We typically play for 4 hours, meaning we may need to pay the additional $8 per person for our game night. I feel like this will have the opposite effect, as I’ll now most likely eat beforehand and maybe only have a beer or two, for an average much closer to $20 total. Or even worse, I could see us going back to our original game at someone’s house and bring our own beer. I understand there are people who just order a coke and play games all night. But for those of us who typically spend $50 a night, it feels like nickel and dime-ing. Especially when the service tends to be pretty hit or miss (with a lot of miss recently).

    • Vigilante says:

      Heard! First: it is currently unheard of for Thursday night to be so full that the $3 fee would apply. We will only approach tables with the Full House fee when Vigilante is on a wait, which (98% of the time) happens only on Friday and Saturday nights. We are also reigning back on our Thursday night events to make more space for gamers (and so they contend less with noise). I’ve also responded to Kris above, re: a minimum.

  4. Steven says:

    I agree with Kirs and Brandon… I would rather have an item limit option as opposed to a flat $5 fee per person. I usually come on Thursday evenings when it’s not always that busy. It’s not like there is a line of people waiting for tables that are not turning over. I typically order the four course meal and two beers, paying an average of $30 when I come. I really enjoy the food and and beer so I look forward to it. However, pushing it to $35 is on the edge of me wanting to skip food all together at Vigilante. Of course, the $5 fee has no overhead cost, so it’s much more money back than getting a $5 beer… So maybe if you have spent at least $X already, the cover fee can be reduced some?

  5. Doug B says:

    Just want to express the same thoughts as others have said. Having a minimum spend amount that could cancel out the “Game Night Fee” would be nice. Plus it seems like this would encourage people to buy more food and drink instead of discouraging them by knowing that there will be an extra $5-8 added to that last bit of beer or food a person is on the fence about ordering.

    I do see how this could be difficult to manage if multiple people are on the same bill or if groups are splitting food and drink.

  6. Darius says:

    What about adding more snack foods to your menu and more non alcoholic drinks, i.e. soda. I get having kitschy drinks, but sometimes I just want a coke. What you guys have is great, but I know from listening to some of my players they’d rather have chips and cheese, popcorn, a slice of pizza. Where these players aren’t spending anything, having these smaller, less pricey items might bring them to order something.

  7. Brandon says:

    We moved our biweekly game to Blackstar Coop. It’s in the same parking lot and their beer/food prices are actually more affordable. They seemed to be very friendly to us having our game there as well. Just figured I’d pass that along.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I think you should consider adjusting this policy change, I did look up at some data and I think your assertions of 45 minutes turnover for a restaurant are not correct. Heres one example stating that 2 hours is average for 4 people:

    http://www.travelandleisure.com/blogs/how-long-is-too-long-to-linger-at-a-table

    I think having a purchase minimum (or requiring a gift card or credit purchase on busy nights) or having a fee for spending more than 3 hours during busy times would be much more reasonable.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I agree with the above posts, the $5 cover seems high considering Austin. I think starting with a full house fee on busy nights and a per person/party minimum purchase would have been a better start.

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