MANCHESTER — The glowing lights of arcade games, a wall of TVs and blasting overhead music are a signature of the new Dave & Buster’s arcade and sports bar at the Mall of New Hampshire.
For now, masks and social distancing are also part of the experience to keep customers and employees safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s first Dave & Buster’s location will open at noon Monday inside part of the former Sears. The Dallas-based company had planned a VIP event with much fanfare for its original March 30 opening date before restaurants were forced to shut down statewide — now the doors will quietly open for those ready to “eat, drink, play and watch.”
“To come into our building you have to have a mask on,” said Jason Kien, general manager of Dave & Buster’s. “To play our games you have to wear a mask. The only time you can take your mask off is when you are sitting and eating and drinking.”
The chain now has more than 130 locations across the country. The mall was chosen because of its location near colleges and the airport.
“This is probably the most challenging time to open a restaurant that I can recall,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association. “They signed leases before all this, so they are in a tight spot.”
While Gov. Chris Sununu allowed 100% capacity for restaurants statewide on Friday, it’s more like 50 to 60% with tables spaced 6-feet apart, Somers said.
The Dave & Buster’s lobby includes a Pac-Man machine with a dozen other classic arcade games with all sales donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Not all the games are for kids.
The 32,000-square-space features the likes of SEGA’s ATV Slam, which has a 47-inch screen and realistic bike controls.
“Not only do you move, it is blasting you with air so you really feel like you’re out on the open road driving,” Kien said. “These full motion games are some of our top five games, it is kind of that roller-coaster experience.”
Other games include, Dance Dance Revolution, Skee-Ball and basketball tosses.
At least for the first week, the Dave & Buster’s custom virtual reality game system will be closed to “achieve a high score in physical distancing,” according to a sign on the machine. It includes custom “Terminator,” “Star Trek” and “Jurassic Park” adventures.
Some of the games now include signs, “Same Group Only,” while some games are closed to promote proper social distancing.
“If there is not good six feet distancing, then we turn it off,” Kien said.
Before COVID-19, the restaurant planned to have more than 470 seats. Now, one-third of the tables are in storage.
Right now, customers are not allowed to carry their drinks into the gaming area.
“The only way you can eat and drink is at an actual table,” Kien said. Customers can order using a mobile app on their smartphone.
“You don’t have to have interaction with a server other than bringing out the food,” he said. “Every table now has its own QR code.”
The menu has been reduced to about 15 items with some of the popular items including grilled chicken avocado ranch sandwich ($11.29), fire-grilled salmon ($17.49) and fire grilled steak, New York strip ($22.49) and sirloin ($17.99).
Chicken tenders, called classic goldfingers, and Buffalo wings are popular with families. They run between $9.99 and $12.99.
“People come in and think we’re only bar food, we are actually a full restaurant,” Kein said.
The bar features what the brand dubs a “40-foot WOW wall” — a wall of high-definition screens for a stadium-like viewing experience. The wall can show anywhere between two and 10 sports games.
The restaurant had 200 people hired and ready to open when COVID-19 hit. Everyone was furloughed after restrictions were placed on indoor dining.
“We were one week away from starting training,” Kein said.
About 50 are being brought back for the opening with 20 employees from other Dave & Buster’s locations, including Natick and Woburn, Mass., helping launch the Granite State location.
“My goal is to get back to 200,” Kien said.
Sears closed in 2018. Dick’s Sporting Goods opened in the other half of the anchor spot last October. Dave & Buster’s doesn’t have direct access to the mall.
For many in New Hampshire, it might be their first time in a Dave & Buster’s.
“They have to be ready for that, ‘Wow,’” Kien said. “Dave & Buster’s as a whole is energy and excitement. It is something to do with your whole family.”
The location will be open noon to 10 p.m. every day.