Laser Tag, bowling, indoor Top Golf, ax throwing, an arcade—among other group-oriented activities: These combine to create an all-in-one business model best described as an entertainment center. These include places such as Pinballz Arcade and Dave & Buster’s, both of which have locations in the Greater Austin area.
Right now, the only entertainment center in the Lake Travis-Westlake area is High 5 Family Entertainment Center, located at 1502 RM 620 in Lakeway, and under Gov. Greg Abbott’s two-phase plan to reopen the Texas economy amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, that type of business model is not quite ready to allow in-store patronage.
The reason: Entertainment centers running at full strength invite a high rate of person-to-person contact.
Under Phase 1 of Gov. Abbott’s plan, which he announced April 27, retail and dining establishments were allowed to reopen for in-store service May 1 but only at 25% capacity.
Museums and movie theaters are included within the list of businesses qualifying for Phase 1, but with certain caveats. Museums, for example, have to keep features involving human contact, such as interactive exhibits or installation, off limits.
According to the governor’s plan, some businesses, including bars, gyms, hair salons and entertainment centers ,could be allowed to reopen for in-store service at 50% capacity by May 18, provided infection rates do not spike in the interim.
Jennifer Emley, vice president of sales and marketing for High 5 Entertainment, said the company is eager to reopen its locations, including the one in Lakeway, but it knows it must reopen responsibly.
Emley said the company is also eager to bring back its 75 hourly workers, who were furloughed in March with the understanding that they were guaranteed jobs when they were able to return.
“We have received our PPP funding, so we are in the process of bringing back our hourly employees now,” Emley said, referring to the federal Paycheck Protection Program that has allocated money through the U.S. Small Business Administration to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emley said it can be a little bit confusing to understand how a business model that relies so heavily on human interaction could prepare to reopen amid a pandemic involving a highly infectious airborne virus, but the company is working on making it happen.
“We have been anticipating our reopening [since] the day we shut down,” she said. “Both of our centers have been deep-cleaned top to bottom, [and we are] doing leadership training with management staff.”
The company will also be stepping up their service model to reduce the amount of touch points, including staff bringing shoes and balls to bowlers rather than having bowlers pick them up themselves, exploring more cashless options and postponing certain activities, such as Laser Tag, Emley said.
“Laser Tag is one we will likely open last, and if we do, it will be for groups of 10 or less,” she said.
Unless told otherwise, Emley said, High 5 is planning to open both of its locations May 21 to 50% capacity, but she added that executive staff is carefully monitoring the situation as it develops to employ the safest possible strategy.
And prior to that, the company is planning a soft opening for May 20 involving a free appreciation party for H-E-B employees at both of its Austin-area locations, which includes the center at Anderson Lane.
“A lot of businesses have been seeing how they can give back, ... and we’ve been looking forward to reopening because we want to honor H-E-B employees,” Emley said.