I spent the better part of 1991 in Campbell River, BC. The hotel I was living at, the Anchor Inn, had a wireless trivia system in their lounge that was administered by a company called NTN (now NTN Buzztime Inc.). There were 20 of the little I/O devices pictured in the photo that people had at their tables, and they read multiple choice trivia questions off TV monitors and entered their answers. (Sorry for the small photo – it was the only image I could find of the old-style units. Search Google Images for “buzztime” to see what they look like now.)
It was competitive, of course. You played against the other people in the room and also against other bars all across North America. People vied for top individual score, and everyone playing at one location also had their scores averaged to find the smartest room on the continent. There were sometimes thousands of establishments online at once, and to get our little “ANCHOR INN, CAMPBLL RVR, BC” on the top 20 screen was quite a thrill.
This is exactly the sort of interactivity that engages people and makes them stay longer at a bar, return more frequently, and invite other people along. I can think of many similar examples, including a pub in Cochrane, Alberta that my sister-in-law used to go to every week for “Name That Tune.” It was a fiercely competitive event where teams of mostly middle-aged people would try and guess song titles and artists. She had a riot, and the bar was packed every week on what would otherwise be a quiet evening.
I even invented a similar draw for the fledgling bartender that worked the normally DEAD Saturday/Sunday afternoon shifts at Grumpy’s Bar when I worked there in the 80s. I suggested that he start some kind of ongoing contest and give free beer to the winners. We settled on Trivial Pursuit, but not played on the board – he read the 12 questions on 2 randomly chosen cards to everyone in the bar, and the patrons wrote down their answers. The person with the most correct got the free drink. It was played every half hour and people who otherwise might have left tended to hang around for “just one more try.” I won’t pretend that we created a huge sensation, but sales for those two shifts did rise from a couple of hundred to five or six hundred. And stats on the Buzztime site promise a 47% increase in spending per patron when they’re playing on the system.