Looking at the contenders for pub and bar entertainment

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Perhaps shuffleboard, VR or game consoles will one day be considered as essential a part of pub furniture as slot machines were in years gone by.

The traditional perception of a pub as a place to consume big-brand lagers around a slot machine is on the verge of disappearing completely.

With the hospitality market as competitive as ever, particularly in metropolitan areas, there is a clear onus on bars to develop a unique identity quickly. The rise of craft beer has given many establishments an easy new angle on the old pub formula, while classic slot machines are becoming disposable.

In the not so distant past, you could stroll into a pub confident that you would find a slot machine. This is no longer the case. The rise in pubs adopting the ‘gastro’ prefix marked the beginning of the end for fruit machines in bars.

The Financial Times reported in 2016 how slot machines were becoming less profitable for pubs, with machine revenues at JD Wetherspoon venues falling in seven of the ten preceding years. A national chain being unable to justify slot machine inclusion was telling, while many other pubs found it more useful to add a dining table where the machine once stood.

Slot machines in pubs were novel because they brought the Las Vegas allure to your local, rather than forcing you to go to Las Vegas. But online casinos have drawn players away, allowing them to recreate the experience of slots, as well as other classic games like roulette and blackjack, from the comfort of their own home.

Moreover, the online selection is exponentially greater. Players can access a diverse range of Vegas-style slots at the Betway online casino, from movie-themed games to slots with progressive jackpots. This is a far cry from simply playing whatever machine happened to be in the local pub.

Other classic pub games like snooker and darts remain relevant because not everyone has that equipment at home. Almost everyone has access to the internet, thereby making the pub slot machine obsolete.

Given the popularity of combining drinking with gaming, it wouldn’t be surprising if a new pub entertainment stalwart emerged. Here are three potential candidates that could become commonplace in bars across the country.

Shuffleboard

This floor or table game, in which players push discs into scoring regions, has enjoyed a dramatic rise in popularity in UK pubs in recent years.

A large part of the charm of shuffleboard is that it offers a level playing field. Many people will have an experience of pool or snooker where they have been hopelessly outplayed by a seasoned player, but the nature of shuffleboard means that everyone has the same chance of victory.

Bar games

The Morning Advertiser spoke to Dafydd Evans about the rise of the game, with the CEO of SHUFL revealing a 750% increase in revenue at one venue when offering shuffleboard over table tennis. The London pub scene has embraced the game in the past couple of years.

The London Shuffle Club in Shoreditch is a newer venue specifically designed for the game, replete with several lanes and a cocktail bar. Other more traditional pubs, such as Ye Olde Cock Tavern in Holborn, have adapted their layout to accommodate shuffleboard.

Shuffleboard doesn’t necessarily spell the end of snooker and pool: Boston Pool Loft in Liverpool provides two shuffleboard tables to complement its 12 pool tables and two snooker tables. However, its burgeoning presence in UK bars could make shuffleboard the next pub craze to sweep the nation, filling the spot vacated by the old slot machine.

VR Gaming

The potential of virtual reality gaming in pubs arrived on BBC News’ radar in 2017, when they reported how The VR Concept introduced virtual reality darts to one pub in South London.

It is fair to say that, since then, virtual reality hasn’t necessarily taken off in the manner that many anticipated. However, that may be about to change. VRFocus acknowledged how the VR market grew by 9.4% in Q3 of 2018, suggesting that VR gaming could one day challenge other forms of video gaming for supremacy.

One thing is certain: VR gaming currently holds the same sense of novelty that slot machines in pubs once achieved.

Battersea’s Four Thieves is the ultimate alliance between bars and gaming, offering almost all forms of pub entertainment conceivable. VR booths are part of Four Thieves’ array of attractions, but could VR ever become a realistic proposition for more traditional pubs? VR’s best hope in pubs could be as a recreation of classic pub games, allowing patrons to don a headset and play a game of darts without fear of accidentally hitting someone.

Retro Video Games

Rather than looking to new tech, many bars are inspired by the resurgence of retro gaming. By offering something that is not easily found elsewhere, bars can present a compelling incentive to entice visitors to keep coming back.

Many people may have discarded their Nintendo 64s, safe in the knowledge that new consoles with better tech would be released. Fortunately, some bars offer patrons the chance to indulge their nostalgia.

Hold Fast popped up in 2014 in Manchester’s competitive Northern Quarter, but this nautical-themed bar stood out by offering Nintendo 64 action at tables. The allure of a console popular in the 90s is irresistible for millennials, who now constitute a huge market for bars to attract.

More dedicated arcade bars are popping up to cater specifically to this demand. For example, Kongs in Birmingham provides classic arcade machines, including Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.

Acquiring shuffleboard tables, VR booths or retro consoles is neither easy nor cheap, especially for an independent pub. However, there is no doubt that these forms of pub entertainment are on the rise, just as the bar slot machine has fallen into a potentially irreversible decline.

Perhaps shuffleboard, VR or game consoles will one day be considered as essential a part of pub furniture as slot machines were in years gone by.

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