The fact I have two school-aged boys and it took me four years to get to Dave and Buster’s, 2201 N. Mayfair Rd., seems unbelievable.
However, we finally went to the Wauwatosa restaurant, pub and game room last weekend and, I admit, I was expecting to hate every minute of it. I purposely steer clear of places with seizure-inducing lights and sounds unless it’s a casino.
Plus, restaurants with arcades are notorious for dishing up disgusting grub and guests with bad attitudes and don’t even get me started on the frustrating ticket systems that usually result with my kid bawling because he’s 1,300 tickets short for a bag of plastic thingies.
However, our Dave and Buster’s experience was completely different and, consequently, it actually changed my pre-conceived notions. Here’s why.
First of all, there are a lot of helpful people working there. Having never been there, it was a bit daunting walking into the bright, loud environment. There were multiple places to eat and drink and we weren’t sure where to sit, but someone immediately saw us looking a bit baffled, approached us and broke it down.
We decided to grab a table in the bar area, where people can also order food, so we could best observe the kids while they played games.
I wasn’t keen on the fact I had to pay $3 for a game card ("power card") but later realized the cost was added in game credit. And the selection of games, especially for people who are out of the video game loop such a myself, was intense. Personally, I was thrilled to see old school Ms. Pac Man and Galaga, but my kids were more interested in driving Mario carts and motorcycles – and playing skeeball.
"Who doesn’t love throwing a ball down a hole?" says the general manager, Randy Kerney. (As much as I want to say "That’s what he said," I won't because I am a professional and a parent. Ahem.)
Most of the time I spent on the game room floor I was in sheer awe. I was blown away by the four-person, new-school version of Pac-Man with a screen that’s the size of my front lawn. Also, there is a kill-the-zombies game in 4-D – meaning we wore 3-D glasses, got blasted by wafts of air and the bench rattled every time a zombie jumped out at us.
This is a far cry from Frogger.
My kids were most excited by the four-person air hockey table. They have been playing air hockey for years on a tired table in the basement of their after-school-program’s building, so the chance to play on the Cadillac of air hockey tables really rocked their stripey socks.
I really didn’t like, nor understand, why the cost of the games was often a decimal – as in "6.8" credits instead of just rounding up or down. I'm sure this make sound business sense to someone, but it made me feel like I was getting ripped off. Or "nickel and dimed" as grandpa used to say.
However, the most appreciated moment of the entire evening came at the end of our game play and when they cashed their tickets in at the "store." Instead of having to feed endless chains of tickets into easily-jammed-up counters, an employee simply weighed a bucket of tickets and within three seconds told us how many we had. (Not enough for the bag of plastic thingies.)
As usual, my sons took entirely too long picking out their toys and candy, and when we finally got to the counter, we discovered we were actually a few tickets short. I remembered the strictness of other places in the past, and how I once offered to pay money just to make up the difference so my son could have the stuffed unicorn but the 16-year-old worker yawned and said no.
This time, however, even though we were shy a few tickets, the worker shrugged, swiped another card in the register, said "close enough" and handed my son his yo-yo. I wanted to kiss her. (I didn’t.) But customer service professionals, take note: this is the kind of gesture that makes someone's entire night.
I also appreciated the cleanliness in the game room and that none of the games were out of order during our visit. Also, there were little tables next to almost every game where one could set drinks or phones.
After I completely flipped my lid on the gaming experience, I was prepared to be disappointed by the food. But again, I really wasn’t. We ordered an appetizer of mini-beef hot dogs wrapped in pretzel buns, a half-order of ribs, a chicken club and a massive salad called The Lawnmower with seven "rows" of lettuce and salad toppings.
The ribs were the most impressive, with the soft meat literally falling off the bone and a Jack Daniel's barbecue sauce that has both sweetness and zip. The Lawnmower was also surprisingly delicious although entirely too massive for one person. The all-beef hot dogs were good, too, and came with a really tasty habanero dipping sauce.
Next time, I hope to try the poppin’ potatoes, which are bite-sized potato puffs with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese – and the calamari. I should have tried the calamari during my visit because, quite frankly, I will judge a place unfairly if the calamari is rubbery. But that’s another story, I guess.
Despite my overall love for the place, I wasn’t enamored with the price. It was a costly night out – more than $100. However, I did remind myself that it's in line with what a family might pay to attend a festival and indulge in multiple aspects of the fun. And Dave & Buster's is fun, which is why we will most likely return to Dave & Buster’s.
Best of all, I didn’t have to watch any mechanical animals drone on and on.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.