"Some people literally sit here for four or five hours. They come in, they eat, they enjoy, they take a little break outside in the park ... and then they pop back in for a beer."
Unless you've spent the past week living under a very large rock, you're probably aware of Pokémon Go, the ridiculously popular augmented reality game from Nintendo and Niantic Labs. In the ten days since its U.S. release, Pokémon Go has become the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. Considering the game has an estimated 21 million daily users (and counting), even if you have been under a rock, there's a good chance someone is currently lifting it to see if there's a Diglett hiding underneath it.
Part of the game's appeal is that it populates the map with real-life locations, turning the White House into the world's most powerful gym and forcing Arlington National Cemetery to ask players to please stop throwing Pokéballs on its grounds. Although Pokémon Go is driving would-be Charizard catchers to historic sites they haven't thought about since their eighth grade field trip, it has also transformed restaurants, parks and otherwise unremarkable architectural features into sought-after gyms and PokéStops.
Restaurants and bars featured in the game have seen significant sales increases; the owner of L'inizio's Pizza Bar in Queens said their food and drink sales jumped by 30% last weekend, all thanks to Pokémon Go. (And the sudden popularity of one sketchy restaurant in my own neighborhood just proves that Snorlax doesn't care about sanitation ratings).
Although some restaurant managers are irritated by their popularity with Pokémon hunters (one Lexington, Kentucky lunch spot angrily insists that its Pokémon are for paying customers only), the majority seem to be doing what they can to capitalize on the increased foot traffic, whether that means spending a few real-life bucks to attach lure modules to their PokéStops or offering discounts to anyone who snags a Pokémon on the property.
We caught up with Nicole Spirito, the general manager of Flying Saucer Pizza Company in Salem, Massachusetts, who has fully embraced the phenomenon—particularly its financial benefits.
MUNCHIES: What has the past week been like at Flying Saucer? Nicole Spirito, general manager of Flying Saucer Pizza Company: We're very, very fortunate. We love the Pokémon Go players and they love us. We embrace nerd culture and all-around weirdness, in every aspect of life.
How did you find out that Flying Saucer was a PokéStop? A good portion of my staff – myself included – downloaded Pokémon Go the second that it launched and right away we saw all of this data with us as a central hub. One of our longtime regulars beta-tested the game before it was released and [the developers] ported a bunch of that beta-ed information into Pokémon Go. We kind of had this insider track and were fortunate to get put on the map by our customer.
Did you have any idea how that would affect the restaurant? As soon as I saw that, I thought 'We've got to capitalize on that.' I thought it would be so cool that people would be out wandering around, catching Pokémon and reliving the nostalgia.
How much has it affected your business? I actually crunched some numbers to see if I could put some tangibles on it. We're looking at an unprecedented increase in sales.
Can you put a real number on that? Conservatively, we're looking at an 18% increase in sales. We looked at week-to-week data and data from the same time last year, taking in factors like weather, holidays and traffic. Applying that information, we're looking at an 18% increase, and the main differentiator is Pokémon Go.
Have you spent any money on the game? Have you paid for lure modules or anything like that? We've spent $0 so far, because [the game players] are here already. Flying Saucer is in such a central location for Pokémon Go players. There are three or four PokéStops within range of our bar, so you could sit at our bar, have a beverage and hit four different PokéStops.
So Flying Saucer is, for lack of a better term, a nerd-friendly space? Yeah, actually it's one of the things I love about this restaurant. We have a ton of art from Star Wars and Star Trek. We have an entire Doctor Who wall with an artist-painted TARDIS on it. We were definitely positioned for something like [Pokémon Go]. It seems like it was made for us.
You seem to know your customer base well. Would you say that most of the Pokémon Go players are regulars or are they just people who stop in to see what they can catch before leaving? It's been both. I definitely have my loyal customer base that has been coming, but we're also seeing an incredibly high number of people who have never been here before, people that have never heard of us before. Some people literally sit here for four or five hours. They come in, they eat, they enjoy, they take a little break outside in the park, but they stay right around in this area and then they pop back in for a beer.
The same customers are coming back again the same day? Yeah. We're seeing people coming in two or three times a day. It doesn't hurt that everyone loves pizza, so it's a great combo.
Has anyone caught any rare Pokémon inside the restaurant? We've had a wild Blastoise, which is very rare. [She pauses to confirm this with another manager]. This is where it goes outside my own personal knowledge.
Did you play the original Pokémon game yourself? I played it on a casual level when I was younger. I have a couple of employees who were all about it then, and as Pokémon Go exploded, we all took a trip down memory lane and got involved again.
Most of your employees are also playing the game? Oh yeah. I'd say about 95% of our employees are actively playing.
What's the highest ranking trainer on your staff? Level 19. We're not just talking the talk here.
What is your trainer level? It's shameful, but I'm only a Level 4 right now. A lot of my staff are all telling me 'When you get to Level 5, you have to pick this team, because it's the best.' I'll get there for sure, but right now, I want to focus on making this the best experience possible for Pokémon Go players.
This interview has been been edited for length and clarity.