Table sports have taken a huge hit ever since the food revolution pushed pubs to find more space for diners. But is a new import, Shuffleboard, about to buck the trend?
Hundreds of tables have been installed across the country, but is this a guaranteed way of bringing in a younger crowd or a fad that will soon slide away into the distance? We got our game face on to to find out more.
What is it?
It's a game played with pucks on a long table (you can get tables from 12ft up to 22ft long). You can play in two teams or singles. Players take it in turns to slide their pucks into the scoring zones at the opposite end of the table. The side with the best-scoring puck or pucks picks up the points. First to 15 wins.
Where is it?
Tables are emerging all over the country but you'll mainly find them in sports bars and major cities. Supplier Shufl is expecting to install its 100th table in the UK this month. We visited Fuller's latest opening, The Hercules in London's Lambeth, to have a go on one of its recent installations.
The table is upstairs at the two-storey venue, fitting in perfectly with the funky artwork, neon lighting and informal dining tables.
Hercules general manager Liam McKeown says: "It's a quick game to learn but it's harder than it looks which keeps it interesting. We talked a lot about an activity and what would fit the vibe and space. Shuffleboard was the natural choice," he adds.
All sorts have been trying it out at The Hercules, which attracts a mixed crowd of residents, workers and tourists. It also appeals to a younger crowd so it could be a way of encouraging those drink-shy millennials into the pub.
How do you make money?
There's no slot for a pound coin on a shuffleboard table. Instead, you hire it out. The Hercules charges £25 for an hour or £15 for 30 minutes. Liam says: "It seems expensive but per person it isn't much, and the table does take some maintaining."
The Dockyard in Manchester, meanwhile, has introduced free shuffleboard on Mondays to drive people in on quieter days.
Both businesses are supplied by Shufl, which specialises in premium tables.
As well as providing the table and cleaning kit, they also train staff on the rules of the game and how to maintain the table. Shufl says the game increases both customer spend and dwell time, generating an average of around £4,000 a month in gameplay revenue alone.
Couldn't you make more with dining tables?
Maybe, maybe not. For really busy periods such as Sunday lunch, the table can be covered with a top and used for dining anyway. More to the point, it taps into the growing desire for customers to enjoy an activity.
"It fits with what we are going for. It looks stylish and people do want something to do when they go out.
Shuffleboard can also be a team game and it allows for more of a collaborative approach that fits with the social element of the pub," says Liam.
He adds: "We have a lot of tables in the building. It's about having something a bit different. It makes the room look great with the décor and the neon. It has a great atmosphere and the game fits with it."
Dafydd Evans, Shufl chief executive, adds: "Shufl satisfies the demands of the experience-driven younger generations, who want active, memory-making socialising, which involves less alcohol consumption and prioritises quality over quantity."
Is it a fad?
Time will tell, but it looks like shuffleboard is far from its peak. Liam says: "I think it is about to have its big moment."
Dafydd adds: "Shuffleboards in Oslo and Stockholm are booked throughout the week with some venues housing more than 10 tables. The game has been established there for a decade now, so it's proven itself as a concept with longevity."
For now, the Hercules table is used by those who hire it out, but Liam is looking to start a league in the pub and may expand this to other Shufl sites in the future.
Dafydd says: "Our pub partners find holding tournaments helps develop a player community. They also use them to encourage people to come to the pub during quieter times by offering prizes for the winners such as bar tabs."
How did Inapub get on in its first game?
It's the taking part that counts.