As Dave & Buster's Goes Public (Again), Here Are Some Tips to Help it Survive

In 1997, Dave & Buster's seemed like a good idea. It did to 12-year-olds, anyway, and adults played along for a while, enough for the chain of arcade/crappy restaurants to go public for the first time. Things soon soured, however, and the Dallas-based company was taken off the stock exchange after being was purchased on the cheap by a private equity firm in 2006.

On the face of it, Dave & Buster's isn't doing much better, having lost money for each of the past three years. But that's not stopping it from preparing to go public for a second time, per a filing Monday with the SEC.

The company is scaling back its store format in an effort to become more profitable, but to woo the lucrative adult-arcade patron, the chain will have to make more substantial changes to the way it does business, such as the following:

More of a dive-y feel: The dim lighting and sticky floors at Dave & Buster's are a nice touch, but they're not enough to dull that corporate sheen that inevitably repels our nation's biggest drunks. To do that, things have to be seedier. Way seedier. Perhaps a game basement, accessible through a trap door on the floor, where you can dump the kids to do some gambling while you grab a drink. That and way more PBR signs.

Strippers: D&B's advertisements never fail to show an ethnically diverse group of attractive young men and women having way more fun than any sane person would at Dave & Buster's. But let's be honest: No self-respecting adult woman would set foot in Dave & Buster's of her own free will. Your target demographic is clearly the adolescent-minded 18- to 34-year-old male, so give him what he wants. Keep the beer and the jalapeño poppers and the dim lighting. You can even keep some of the games (NBA Jam, please). But put in some poles and send in the strippers.

Slot machines:You've already got the neon, depressing aura, and games of chance, but the stakes are too low. People have to have skin in the game and the infinitesimal chance of hitting it big, not just the off-chance they can win enough tickets to buy a rubber Texas A&M basketball. So throw in some slot machines, a blackjack table or two, and voila. Let the lawyers deal with the legal niceties.

Animatronic rodents: A certain themed children's pizza chain may have the market -- not to mention the copyright -- cornered on creepy mechanical rats, but that's just one small branch of the rodent tree. There are hamsters, for example, and guinea pigs. Just picture this: a floodlit stage, smoke-machine vapor billowing across the floor, and out steps Dave & Buster, the hamster-guinea-pig duo, rocking out to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Watch the stock prices soar.

Valuable prizes!: A lot of Dave & Buster's games dispense tickets you can be exchange for worthless trinkets. Why not make one of those worthless trinkets Dave & Buster's stock? The benefits are twofold: You get to unload some of your holdings in a dated concept that's destined to fail; and, if patrons own a part of the company, they'll feel obligated to go, guaranteeing that at least someone goes there.

NBA Jam: Seriously, do they still have that game? That was awesome.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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