The next big opportunity in the on-premise? Darts, escape rooms, axe throwing and table tennis

To get younger drinkers off their couch and outside their apartments, you’ve got to do more than offer a bar stool, a cold beer and a television tuned to sports.

This screen-addled generation, raised on mobile phones, tablets and on-demand television programming, spends a lot of time at home. Meeting friends is more often done digitally. And enticing them to grab a drink at a bar sometimes requires an experience.

“These days you can watch any game or any movie, interact with your friends, find a date and get food delivered to you without ever having to leave your couch,” says Hilary Jamieson, senior director of on-premise channel marketing for MillerCoors. “We need to give people a reason to get out and about. People still want to engage with each other, but we’ve got to give them a better reason to do so.”

Thus the rise of a new class of bars offering activities such as target golf, shuffleboard, axe throwing, escape rooms, pétanque and table tennis. There are now some 5,200 activity-based outlets that serve alcohol beverages, and more are opening each year. Just as important: these so-called experiential venues draw a crowd that skews younger than the neighborhood tavern or the chain casual dining restaurant.

“The size of the prize is huge,” Jamieson says of the emerging channel. That’s why MillerCoors is putting more effort than ever to reach consumers in this channel, “which is hugely important to us as a company. The more of these venues that open up, the more excited we get, because we know we can play here with our entire portfolio.”

Consumers who visit these venues tend to come in bigger groups, they stay longer and they consume more alcohol beverages, according to a Nielsen on-premise survey conducted this spring. These types of experiential venues appeal to about 70% of 21- to 34-year-olds, and nearly three in four people who visit these venues consume alcohol beverages. On top of that, they purchase on average 3.4 drinks per visit, compared with just 1.9 at casual dining restaurants, data show.

Reaching these drinkers – the legal-age millennials and Gen Z members – is widely viewed as critical for large beer companies facing widespread declines in the beer category. Fewer of them are choosing alcohol and a higher percentage of those who do drink are not drinking beer, Nielsen data analyzed by MillerCoors show.

“If we don’t get drinkers into beer after they turn age 21, they’ll go straight to spirits,” Jamieson says. “We need to find new ways to bring them into our categories and our brands, and we think there’s a huge opportunity in this channel."

MillerCoors is working with distributors and operators to generate more interest in its brands via strategies that include consumer giveaways, competitive pricing and enhanced visual displays.

The rise of this so-called experiential channel has come in parallel to an explosion in craft brewery taprooms, both of which are sucking away traffic from traditional bars, long the strongholds of big beer brands like Coors Light, Miller Lite and Bud Light.

MillerCoors sees promise for its bigger brands in these venues in part because of their appeal to a younger legal drinking-age demographic as well as the longer length of time drinkers spend in them.

“With taprooms for the most part being inaccessible for many of our brands, we see this as a huge opportunity to really engage with these consumers,” Jamieson says. She points to one of the goals of MillerCoors CMO Michelle St. Jacques: “We need to build more brands that people want to hang out with.”