Restaurant owners eat up popularity of Pokémon Go

WASHINGTON — Last weekend, the New York pizzeria L’inizio Pizza Bar saw a 75 percent increase in sales — and it wasn’t because of their pepperoni. It was because of Pokémon.

Manager Sean Benedetti told the New York Post he spent $10 using the Pokémon Go app to “lure” a dozen Pokémon characters to his business. The strategic buy brought in a stream of game-crazed players, eager to catch the Pokémon. And it turns out, they stuck around for a few slices.

Restaurant owners throughout the country are cashing in on the popular virtual reality game, advertising the Pokémon that are popping up in their businesses, and even offering specials geared toward gamers.

“Most restaurants are seeing customers that never would have walked into their restaurant, and it’s all due to the game,” said Deborah Bruzzo, a restaurant real estate expert with McEnearney Associates Commercial and a family owner of Alexandria’s Osteria Marzano.

Restaurants don’t necessarily have to purchase anything from the app to experience success. Some business owners are finding out that they are hot spots for Pokémon — or even better: they are predesignated Pokémon “gyms,” or spaces where players send their characters to do battle.

“Your business could be holding a gym, and if that’s the case, you’re going to be seeing a lot of people just walk in your business just to accumulate points,” Bruzzo said.

The Washington Post reports the staff at Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company was surprised to learn the brewery was a Pokémon gym. This weekend, the owners are capitalizing on their good fortune with free giveaways to those who come into the tasting room in a Pokémon costume.

Bruzzo predicts Pokémon Go could be a major game-changer in the restaurant industry, as long as businesses are willing to cater to those obsessed with the game — even if that means just mixing up a few character-specific cocktails.

“It’s a way for the game company to make money and for the businesses to benefit from it,” she said.

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