Biz Idea: Board Game Cafe

Board Game My friends and I love board games. My friends and I love cafes. So I thought, why not combine them both into a board game cafe!

The Business Model of Current Cafes

The current cafe business model is basically to sell you coffee and snacks (and occasionally, other things too). The more in-and-out customer traffic they get, the more sales they make. Although many cafes go out of their way to create a cozy, homey environment to attract lounging customers, this can actually hurt their bottom line.

For instance, cafes with free wifi will undoubtedly attract cafe wifi moochers. That’s good and all, if the moochers make occasional purchases. But as one Seattle coffee shop discovered, removing free wifi decreased lounging customers (more specifically: cafe wifi moochers) and increased sales.

So how about this as an alternate cafe business model: make money from customers who lounge around in your cafe. How? By offering board games!

Game Night at Yahoo!

Here’s another way to look at it. Randy Farmer, a Community Strategic Analyst for Yahoo! (YHOO) started a casual Game Night at Yahoo! last year. It’s free to anyone in the California Silicon Valley area. New members can join through their mailing list, South Bay Boardgamers, then play a large variety of board games at Yahoo!’s offices in Sunnyvale, CA.

Back when I was a Yahoo! employee, I’d occasionally see several dozen boardgamers happily socializing and playing in the Yahoo! cafeteria. The energy was enticing and exciting.

This is proof of an audience for board games. Now say they could also play on weekends in a nice, cozy, homey cafe, complete with coffee and snacks. Not only would it be a good wholesome family-friendly evening, but it would be a great way to meet new people too. There are lots of singles and new residents in the area, many of whom may be, or could grow to be, board game enthusiasts.

Monetizing the Board Game Cafe

Aside from coffee and snacks, this cafe could offer:

Board game table rentals
A group of customers could select or reserve a table and a board game from the cafe’s library. The table would be rented at an hourly rate that varied depending on the day of the week. Perhaps it could follow a bowling lane rental model, or something similar. The group could specify that the table is “private” or “public,” where public tables would allow walk-ins to join at a pro-rated rate. Tables would vary in size and be expandable, from small one-on-ones to large groups.
Board game tournaments
Once the cafe was somewhat established, weekly or monthly tournaments could be held. These would allow singles the opportunity to band together and compete for prizes, such as gift certificates, additional time, or cash. Teams and guilds could be formed too. Some tournaments could take on themes, such as a AD&D Halloween, WWII Week, or Star Wars Wars. Companies can also reserve the cafe for team outings or team-building games.
Online Network
An online supporting network would allow customers to view their accounts and subscribe to various rental schedules (such as a flat fee for unlimited usage per month). They could also form guilds with other members and track their winnings and losses from tournaments or private games. Members could purchase time or subscriptions for other members as gifts. New members could also be randomly selected on occasion for a game together, based on their game preferences and experience.

The Business Challenges

There are many business challenges to this idea. They aren’t insurmountable, but are reason to approach this with some caution.

Video Games
There’s a growing trend of video & electronic game usage. It’s arguable that board games have social benefits over the faceless screen of a monitor, though the video game industry is booming. If this trend continues, board game demand may drop and kill the profitability of this business. And if a niche survives, would it be large enough to sustain such a cafe? Or could a retro revival take place to reintroduce board games to the public?
Price Point and Margins
The rental rate would be an important determinant of success. How much are people willing to pay for playing board games in public vs in their own homes? Game Night at Yahoo! shows some demand for playing in public, especially when it means expanding your circle of players. The price can’t be so low that it doesn’t cover the costs involved (board game sets, employees, rent, etc) and can’t be so high that it drives away customers. Research would be needed to determine the right price point.
Location
As with any retail business, the location is crucial for success. Great locations mean high rent, however. Are the profits of this business enough to cover the costs?

Since this business idea would require relatively high capital costs (rent, furniture, materials, employees, training, web site development, point-of-sale infrastructure, etc), the break-even point may not come for a while, perhaps years?

Could this business become one of those successful trends that grows into franchises across the country? Or is it a labor of love, a hobby business for someone who doesn’t need the money but has the time to do this? I don’t know, but I dig the idea. And so, perhaps, would some of my friends!

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

54 thoughts on “Biz Idea: Board Game Cafe”

  1. Mike,

    Several have tried a version of this business plan over the last decade or more, and it has been quite a challenge.

    See: http://www.matchplay.com/

    I think the real issue with the board gamers I know is the the fact that you want to get to know the people you are playing with through repeated sessions together. That pretty much requires scheduled, regular meetings. Not really the same as anonymous pickup games at a coffee shop.

    Perhaps the missing component is a social network, enabled through GPS-enabled mobile phones that tells you when a freind/arch-rival is available to play a face-to-face match in the next hour or so… ?

    Randy

    1. Table rental fees are probably necessary to prevent loss of revenue to gamers who don’t otherwise buy anything. But why stick it to customers who are buying food and drink?

      Find a way to have the table rental as kind of a base hourly rate, and deduct all other purchases from that amount. That way the game-only types are satisfied because they don’t feel pressured to buy food they don’t want, and the food-buying consumers are satisfied because they get free or discounted public gaming with their food purchases.

  2. You know, I had a feeling you might have tried starting a business around gaming, especially given your background & experience.

    Good point about wanting regularly scheduled games… I can totally see that… hmmm…

    Ah, a mobile social network – that’s a good use of that technology! It’s also a potentially good way to get non-scheduled games going too, huh? Hmmm!

    And if anything else, at least we have your Game Nights!

  3. Oh wow, really! Thanks for that info, Creech! I’ll have to visit Singapore one of these days and check out how these cafes are doing. Perhaps they can be a template for a similar business in the US.

    Just from their websites, and the number of such cafes there are, they seem popular enough. I wonder why. Are there cultural differences that make it work in Singapore and would hurt it in the US, or could it be easily translated here? Hmmm.

  4. Just found your site and this topic really intrigues me.

    I’ve been attending events with a board game group in the Portland, Oregon area. They meet twice a week, once at a Board/Card game shop, and once at a local microbrewery. This group can sometimes see 30 people or more at either location. From this I assume that a game-oriented cafe could work.

    And perhaps designating certain nights for certain games and/or casual tournaments would help with the networking? Then there is always email lists, or a website for the cafe that hosts a forum, or shows members planning on playing or currently at the cafe?

    I’m also seriously working toward starting a Video Game-oriented cafe as the media is now becoming much more recognized as an alternative to other forms of entertainment. There are already a few places in Portland where you can go to play video games, but they cater largely to hardcore fans, and the ambience is dark and dingy. Seems like there is room for a much brighter, more social environment.

    One problem that I’ve encountered with the video game cafe is sound. You don’t really want to wear headphones, but you don’t want to hear everyone elses games either. So I’m still working on this hurdle.

  5. Sounds like a great idea, James! I once thought about a restaurant that had digital consoles with:

    1) Video games for the kids – to make waiting for dinner easier
    2) Digital menus for the hungry patrons – to make ordering food more efficient

    This is being done already by a restaurant in LA, though I forget which one. (Anyone know?)

    For the sound hurdle… hmm… I thought I once heard that Disneyland had devices that aimed sound at certain areas with minimal noise spillage, though I haven’t been able to find any info online.

    I wonder if noise cancellation devices could also work. But you’ve probably thought of those already.

    Could you try games that didn’t require a lot of sound? Like chess or scrabble? And allow players to play against each other? Just a random idea.

    Good luck with your Video Game Cafe!

  6. Mike,

    This soulds like a very interesting idea, though my question would be to see how many tables would a cafe like this require. Depending on the game something like Risk can last a couple of hours and something like monopoly can last even longer. Though your cafe would be full my assumption is that you are still going to be making the majority of your income through selling the edible products. If all your tables are occupied by the gamers who are paying a nominal price that might decrease your profit from everything else.

    By the way, the thing you refer to that points the sound you can find online as a “Sound Dome.” It is made to be over the customer and will pretty efficiently point the sound the right way without creating too much of a noise polution.

    James, I am also working to possibly create such a video game cafe in the mid-west. Wondering if you are willing to share your experience looking into this field and I can share with what data I have found to be useful as well.

    Leon
    (i3lueAngel@gmail.com)

  7. Thanks Leon! And you raise a good point. That’s why I think a time-based fee (like renting a table on an hourly basis) would be better than a flat fee. This way, longer games means more revenue. :-)

    Ah, and thanks for the info about the sound dome! I hope it helps out James!

  8. Hi,

    I am weekee from Pitstop Cafe Singapore. Came across your entry and if you are in Singapore, do drop in for a cup of coffee and some boardgames.:)

  9. I’m really interested in starting up something like this. My idea was actually more along the lines of a club or lounge atmosphere aimed more at customizable card gamers and tabletop rpg/strategy gamers. I’d have a retail section of the store and would have a website and bulliten board designed for players to get steady groups set up. Charge a nominal fee to post a game and offer discount incentives for the customer that is running the particular game (he’s doing all my advertising for me and bringing in 2 to 5 extra customers). I was thinking of setting up tournaments and possibly a league for the games that people seem most interested in. I want it to have a open social atmosphere and be a friendly neutral ground environmentfor established groups and people who are curious about these games.

    I’ve seen this half done in some hobby shops but they never quite took that step out of the traditional comic and game retail store.

    1. i am a 38 yr old mother of 4 and i love boardgames, i have over 300. I have thought yrs about having some kind of business with my games, but havent figured out exactly what.

  10. The world’s first Board Game Cafe was started in Seoul, Korea by a young college woman by the name of Yoon Ji-hyun in April of 2002.

    See the article at this link:
    http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-22432100_ITM

    By 2004 there were about 250 Board Game Cafes in Korea according to this article:
    http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GamesInKorea.shtml

    For the next couple of years the phenomena grew even bigger, then there was a major contraction of the market (starting in 2006, if I remember correctly).

    Still, Korea is the only place in the world that Board Game Cafes have become popular on a mass scale.

  11. hi,
    looks like this trend is fast catching up!
    with sooothing music plus great games that brings friendship together & not forgetting great food.
    Went to one at 2nd ave junction call munchkings & queens,
    seems just started their business.

  12. Hi,
    Glad to see the interest in Board Games Cafe.

    Maybe just allow me to add my personal opinion-

    “Operating a Board Game Cafe is Just playing a Board Game!”

    It’s Challenging,
    requires intense Planning ,strategizing
    interaction with Customer to know what’s best
    Accept the fact when you lose and
    keep cool when you Win!

    Cheers!

    Alvin Tan
    The Mind behind The Mind Cafe

  13. wow, how funny to find this now. I just did a presentation on a business plan for a boardgame cafe. it was part of a university project. after living in korea for a year and a half i knew it could work, but the people we pitched the idea to in Ireland said it wouldn’t stand a chance.

    wish i had if seen this site before i pitched to provide them with actual statistics from some of the links in the comments section.

    we even created a fictional website, listed above

  14. James can you be so kind and send me your business plan of the cafe…I’m thinking of opening something of that kind… it really doesn’t matter that the statistics is not actual… my email: maxrik@gmail.com. Thank you very much in advance!

  15. How much initial capital investment would be required to open something like this. I’m seriously thinking about trying my hand at it as well.

  16. Great question, Phil. I hope someone here can chime in and offer some realistic numbers. My guess would be:

    Cost of rent +
    cost of insurance (for building, business, employee, etc) +
    cost of employee compensation +
    cost of building renovations & decorations +
    cost of supplies (board games, etc) +
    cost of building utilities (electricity, gas, etc) +
    cost of food preparation equipment (coffee makers, refrigerator, oven, etc) +
    cost of food supplies (coffee grinds, sugar, etc) +
    cost of internet access +
    cost of web site development +
    cost of logo and graphic design +
    cost of initial marketing =
    ——————————–
    Initial capital investment

    That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure if you sat down and really thought about it, you’d come up with more items. Most storefront businesses have a 3-year break-even point, meaning it takes 3 years to finally cover the initial capital costs. So you’d need 3 years worth of capital at the very least.

    These costs would differ dramatically based on the location of your business, of course. Rents & employee costs in New York City would be very different from Singapore, for instance.

    If anyone has a business plan or already has such a business and is looking for franchisees, let me know! Looks like a few people here may be interested. :)

  17. Hi ,

    Just to share,

    I started MindCafe in Singapore with S$200 000 for the 1st outlet in 2005.

    it take us about 6 months to see some positive growth….The revenue for the 1st 6 months are miserable….sometime i had a $30 revenue for the whole day.

    Lost quite a fair bit of the investment through the 6 months….

    I figured that i do not know The Right Formula

    After the initial teething stage, we had a bit of positive growth and we never look back since then.

    Currently we have 4 outlets in Singapore.

    Hope that the above sharing do help.

    Regards,

    Alvin Tan
    The Mind Cafe (Singapore)

  18. As I have stated in an erlier comment, I do have a business plan I made for a university project. I know it’s going to differ largely from what would be in mind for some people considering opening their own cafe. for example we were keeping costs at a minimum, so:

    We were going to use a building laid out as a cafe to avoid having extra costs.

    we were doing our own marketing, through the use of giant inflatable connect fours, checkers and twister. This would help promote the shop in a fun and inexpensive way.

    We also had the idea of allowing our customers to donate board games to our shop. In return we could allocate a certain number of free coffees to them in return for their used items which would cost us next to nothing and help increase loyalty with our customers.

    I’m also sure we didn’t account for employee insurance, but that was just to allow us to keep our costs down on paper to show it was a viable business option when we presented it to our lecturers. ;)

    we also had some other ideas too, like advertising our website to allow gamers to chat in the forum and arrange contests, vote for boardgames they would like to see introduced, and also just to get to know the people behind the cafe.

    I have a business plan I would be willing to forward to anyone who is interested. (free of course) So if you would like it, then just respond here and I will view the comment and send you the plan.

  19. Hi, I am a hotel management student from India and I am planning to open a cafe with boardgames and gaming consoles in Bombay which is going to be the first since this concept doesnt exist here.
    James, I would really appreciate it if you could forward me your business plan… It would help me a lot. thanks.

    1. Mansi – I am also interested in the idea and would love to share thoughts/ideas and hear about your experience with the cafe in Bombay.

  20. Hey James,

    If you’d prefer not to list your email address here (I wouldn’t recommend it for potential spam reasons), let me know and I can give you the email addresses of those requesting a copy of your business plan to you directly.

    This also sounds like a great opportunity for someone to open up a game cafe franchise, BTW ;)

  21. Hey James, even i am thinking on the same lines with my friends and we are already in the implementation stages of it. I would like to have a copy of your project. Perhaps i may get a new idea or something. Please let me know.
    Cheers

  22. I sincerely apologise to all on this site. I promised to forward on my business plan to anyone looking for it but I was busy right through september finishing my dissertation for my masters (which I succeeded in doing and in graduating too) and then I was on a nice long holiday in the caribbean to celebrate finishing university for good. I actually found a great cafe there on one of the days I actually left our hotel resort, it was called “rituals coffee house” and I can highly recommend it should you find yourself in st. lucia, jamaica or any other caribbean island lucky enough to have one.

    If anyone wants to obtain the business plan please email me at mrjamesoc@gmail.com

    I have set up this e-mail address especially to send and receive messages on this topic so I don’t mind it being published.

    james

    Again, I apologise for not replying sooner but I am now looking for a job in marketing so I have plenty of time on my hands to get back to you.

  23. Thanks for being accommodating like that James. Perhaps you’ll find a business partner here who wants to start a board game cafe with you. Or a current board game cafe owner who needs marketing consultation. ;) (Hint hint to the other entrepreneurs here.) Good luck everyone!

  24. I have been considering this idea as well and found this website in my attempts to research the concept. Actually I have been torn between this or investing into video equipment to reboot my video production company which never really got off the ground or find some balance of the two. But I am entering rambling land now

    The issue of electronic forms of entertainment (video games) also came to mind in my own personal brainstorm sessions. In my model I was considering including electronic entertainment as well. For random examples things like a WII or playstation area. Mostly games that have physical controllers came to mind such as WII sports type games etc. The other idea I was looking into was to see if there are any viable computer coffee table type devices. There was one by microsoft I seen a while back but not sure if it ever went to the consumer market. The idea was a computer coffee table that players could play computerized board games on. In this day and age it would be unwise to start a game store of any kind without having video games available to purchase. If anyone has seen or knows of some one or company able to create a coffee table table for this kind of purpose with of course touch screen interaction please let me know.

    The issue would be licensing with these companies. For renting the use of games or reserving tables for a fee I would probably first check with the board game companies which you would be using their games for this purpose.

    For Tournaments I would highly recommend looking into your local skill game laws before going down that road especially if there is some kind of entry fee for a tournament. Some games are a bit in the gray area for tournament or pay to play say like monopoly or to a lesser extent backgammon. There was a case in the 70's I believe it was where a backgammon tournament was shut down (forget the state off hand) but later in court it was clearly demonstrated that it was a game of skill through various testimonies. The issue was the dice in that case. So definitely for tournaments check with your local laws on the matter.

    I came worked in local tv news production and for something as unique as this kind of venture check your local morning news shows. If they have a morning zoo entertainment/news format contact a producer/reporter or exec producer about your business especially if your having some kind of tournament type event. It's free advertisement for you. Just be mindful some are pay to be on the programs. It's a format that came out a few years ago and I would expect as tough a business it is in local television this approach will be more wide spread in the years to come. Other avenues of marketing this kind of business would do well with are free local infotainment newspapers/magazines. With my background I would be tempted to make a budget tv/internet show out of it especially if you have an internet presence.

    Food & Drink: The most obvious set up for a place like this would be a variation of a Starbucks type of lay out. But in addition to typical things like overpriced coffees and my favorite coffee drinks that are closer to milkshakes than coffee I would include other prepared drinks like club soda with fruit juices and fruit smoothies. For myself I was considering things like having a large variety of beverages, and some basic game night type food available. Nachos, Pizza or whatever. The food aspect I would probably would not want to mess with and thought of the idea of making deals with surrounding local resturaunts and have prepared foods deliverable to people that have a game night table reservation.

    Someone posted somewhere about free wifi can actually be a make a business lose money. Someone sited one place that discontinued the service and actually boosted sales. I can see that happening but also would put money on they didn't have good parking conditions. One thing you would want to do for a business like this you are operating with the thought your customers will be there for a fair amount of time. So with that in mind part of the location location location keep parking parking parking in mind as well. If the parking lot is full for a long time people might move on elsewhere especially by passers that see your place and want to stop out of curiosity.

    If anyone is interested in sharing ideas or experiences of this kind of venture perhaps some kind of group or even co-op can be formed for a more on going discussions. Anyone interested in talking contact me at iolaos1968@yahoo.com this is my sign up/spam email so be sure to include the words boardgame cafe in the subject

    1. That is fantastic feedback, thanks for the comments! I hadn't thought about the local laws around tournament play. Using the local TV news & media is a great idea too.

      I really do hope someone goes out and tries this idea. I for one would love to be a patron ;)

  25. That is fantastic feedback, thanks for the comments! I hadn't thought about the local laws around tournament play. Using the local TV news & media is a great idea too.

    I really do hope someone goes out and tries this idea. I for one would love to be a patron ;)

    1. Wow, nice find. I love how far the owners took the horror theme. A clock that counts to 13 instead of 12 is a nice touch ;) Oscar the ghost, I’ll admit, sounds made-up, but that definitely must add to the aura of that place. If I’m ever in Fort Collins, I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the article Tam.

  26. me & my boyfriend are planning to open a board game cafe here in the UK. They are HUGE in China: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c61b9a42-0eb5-11e0-9ec3-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1TlSuHafn
     We have no money currently so can’t do it right at the moment, but we’re pretty sure we will do it at some point! Don’t think we’re going to make people pay for board games / tables but maybe we’ll have to rethink that. Really like the board game tournament idea.

  27. me & my boyfriend are planning to open a board game cafe here in the UK. They are HUGE in China: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c61b9a42-0eb5-11e0-9ec3-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1TlSuHafn
     We have no money currently so can’t do it right at the moment, but we’re pretty sure we will do it at some point! Don’t think we’re going to make people pay for board games / tables but maybe we’ll have to rethink that. Really like the board game tournament idea.

    1. Best wishes to you & your boyfriend! I really hope you’re able to start such a cafe. And if you do, drop a line with the address – perhaps I’ll check it out during my next trip to the UK. Good luck! And thanks for the FT link.

  28. Hi interested in this idea – not sure if people would be willing to hire tables by the night tho – I’m a gamer and probably would not. Does anyone have a business plan for this idea? 

    1. Hopefully someone does have a business plan for this idea they’re willing to share, though some other commenters have asked around and haven’t seen one. Since there are already businesses operating this kind of a cafe, you could consider talking to one of them – and perhaps even franchising. And if you do, let us all know over here! Good luck!

  29. I have set up Manor Games in Stockport UK and would be very interested in meeting any cafe owners in the area for abstract strategy games, variant chess and variant draughts games playing sessions.  Board games and other tabletop (small space) games could be used.  I think the concept would be more likely to work as two separate entities overlapping their respective businesses part time, and eventually growing with a flexible outlook.  It’s something I intend to sound out local cafe owners. 

  30. I’ve been thinking about this idea too — originally stemming from the idea of a singles cafe… Is there anyone in the New England area, USA, who would be interested in pursuing a board game cafe with me? Not solely for singles but perhaps with a “Single’s Night”…

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