WhirlyBall reopens to pent-up demand

45,000-square-foot space allows for social distancing, small group business

Lane dividers have been installed in between the bowling alleys at WhirlyBall in Brookfield.

Last updated on June 18th, 2020 at 09:53 am

As WhirlyBall in Brookfield reopens in an era of social distancing and contactless interactions, the “eatertainment” concept has had to find ways to adapt a business model which is based largely on bringing people together.

The Chicago-based company began welcoming customers back inside its two-story, 45,000-square-foot venue at Brookfield Square on Monday, having been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now that stay-at-home restrictions have lifted, allowing people to leave their homes and business to reopen under new health and safety guidelines, WhirlyBall is seeing pent-up demand for group activities, said Adam Elias the company’s vice president of strategic planning. 

“People really want to get out and do things,” he said.

WhirlyBall is named after a game that combines basketball, lacrosse, hockey and bumper cars. The Brookfield location has two WhirlyBall courts, 12 bowling and Hyperbowling lanes and a 30-person laser tag room. It also houses a full-service restaurant, private event space and two bar areas, where patrons can order food and drinks while they play.

But being able to meet that pent-up demand safely required some operational changes at WhirlyBall, including a new check-in process where all customers have their temperatures taken upon entry, and reservations are strongly encouraged.

Elias said the venue has plenty of space for distancing was already set up in a way that allows groups to have their own space. WhirlyBall and laser tag both occupy designated, full-enclosed areas. Lane dividers have been installed in between the bowling alleys, where every other lane will be used.

Lane dividers have been installed in between the bowling alleys at WhirlyBall in Brookfield.

“We recognize that your family of five or six, or maybe its two families that have been spending a lot of time together that want to come out– we’re anticipating smaller groups and by doing that we understand that this group of 10 will enjoy the space together,” said Elias.

It should be noted that up to 10 people can participate in a game of WhirlyBall, but the venue is accepting bookings for groups larger than 10– there are no restrictions on mass gatherings by the state or Waukesha County.

Activity areas and equipment will be fully sanitized after each group, and customers are given sanitizing wipes to clean the equipment before use if they wish.

In addition to new bookings, WhirlyBall has rescheduled many of the groups that had made reservations prior to COVID-19, said Elias. Larger events are being booked for later dates.

He believes the rise of entertainment-based bars and restaurants will continue being slowed by COVID-19.

“Just like theaters, concerts, entertainment, people like to go and be with their friends and family– that is not something that will go away,” said Elias. “Once we’re able to come out of this together out of the COVID-19 time, we feel there will be a real positive push towards eatertainment as there was prior to the pandemic.”

Similarly, 1st and Bowl in Wauwatosa also reopened its 20,500-square-foot venue on Monday. The activity bar is known for a game called “fowling,” which involves throwing a football at bowling pins.

As part of the reopening, the business implemented enhanced safety and social distancing measures.

“We have re-tooled our layout and increased cleaning with the health and safety of our staff and our customers our number one priority,” said co-owner Tim Johnson. “While we are confident that we have created a safe and fun environment in our spacious warehouse setting, we will constantly review and adapt as necessary.”

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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