With their combination of entertainment and dining, theme restaurants are proving to be an attractive way for licensors to promote their kids properties. For Marvel Entertainment, the multi-generational appeal of its characters made its move into the restaurant category last February a logical one, says Maryann Caruso, director of publicity at Marvel Entertainment.
Located in Universal City, California, Marvel Mania Hollywood spans 25,000 square feet, and seats over 500 people. A joint venture between Marvel and Universal, the restaurant was designed so that ‘when people walk in, they feel like they’re walking into a comic book,’ says Caruso. To achieve that effect, Marvel adorned all of the walls with tableaus of Marvel characters, such as Spider-Man, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk, striking action poses. thirty-two monitors located throughout the restaurant run nonstop loops of Marvel cartoon footage, and actors dressed as the characters make daily appearances. To complete the experience, there is the Marvel Mania Store, situated in the middle of the restaurant, where consumers can visit and buy a variety of Marvel-themed merchandise, most of which are exclusive items, including apparel and collectible figures. Sales of merchandise accounts for 30 percent of overall revenues, with the other 70 percent coming from food and beverage purchases, says Barry Richards, vice president of business development at the Marvel Entertainment Group.
Merchandise sales provide an extra revenue stream for theme restaurants, and can help to offset the often high costs of the entertainment component, says Bill Manzel, a restaurant analyst based in Randolph, New Jersey. Another factor that can affect a theme restaurant’s overall performance is location. Many theme restaurants, like Marvel Mania Hollywood, are located in or near theme parks, which allows them to attract consumers who are already on-site or within the vicinity. Richards estimates that a little over half of Marvel’s patrons are park attendees.
‘We knew that the park business would be there. A key to our long-term success will be to get the local business,’ says Richards.
Though smaller in scale than Marvel Mania Hollywood, the Snoopy restaurants, the first of which will open in downtown Singapore this December, will conform to a similar template. The 8,000- square-foot flagship restaurant will feature a children’s play area, as well as a retail corner, which will sell exclusive Snoopy and Peanuts-themed licensed product. By the year 2003, United Media, licensor of the Snoopy and Peanuts properties, and its partner, Raymond Mok of RM Enterprises, plan to open nine more restaurants in Asia, the size of each will vary from full-service restaurants to take-out kiosks. United Media decided to open the restaurants in Asia, because its market research found the demand for Snoopy restaurants was much stronger there than in the U.S., says Lili Root, manager of public relations at United Media.
The Snoopy restaurant and Marvel Mania Hollywood offer typical theme-restaurant menus, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza, although Root says the Snoopy restaurants plan to incorporate local cuisine as well.
Both restaurants are fairly generic interpretations of the theme concept, in comparison to other establishments on the market, such as Rainforest Cafe, for example, which, at its Walt Disney World location in Orlando, Florida, uses animatronic animals and an extravagant man-made landscape that boasts a 65-foot fire-spitting volcano, to recreate the atmosphere of a tropical rainforest.
Caruso thinks Marvel Mania Hollywood can compete against such pie-in-the-sky theatrics though, by relying on the strength of its broad appeal. ‘Most [theme restaurants] have a particular demographic they’re trying to cater to, whether it’s rock music, fashion or sports. Marvel spans more than three decades, so we have over three generations of fans to draw on. . . . It’s a place where both adults and kids want to go.’