New comers to the bar business sometimes think that bar promotions are something bar owners do to first attract customers to their bar in the early days just after the Grand Opening or something that bars do occasionally when business starts to lag. The truth that anyone who has worked in the bar business for even a short bit knows is that bar and pub promotions are the lifeblood of watering holes.
A bar that is not engaged in promoting itself is a bar waiting to die. I am not exaggerating. Even a low-key neighborhood bar with lots of walk-in customers cannot rest assured that it will not lose its customer base to the next new thing that might decide to open up down the street and aggressively promote to its customer base. For this reason, bar owners always need to be looking to keep things fresh and keep new blood coming in the door.
The Bar Promotions Guy
Of course, bar promotional ideas don’t just grow on trees. You need to have a bar promotions strategy and you need to assign someone you trust to be in charge of it. Usually the central person in charge of bar promotions is either one of the owners a central bartender who the owners trust to carry out their promotional campaign. If the promoter is an employee, the promoter should be paid like a manager and not just like a bartender so that they get a sense of the increased importance of their duties. (For a more comprehensive view of promoting, hiring and managing bartenders and employees, see our Nightclub Management Training Guide.)
The pub promotions guy or gal needs to have a particular set of skills that is not always easy to find. They need to have a certain amount of creativity so that they can dream up bar promotion ideas that will help increase your traffic, but they also need to have a sense of what is doable and what is a waste of time. Often these two aspects are in direct opposition. In addition, the bar promotion person needs to have a really good sense of your vision for your bar and how to help bring you the customers that you are looking for. Finally, the pub promotions person needs to be fairly outgoing and energetic as he or she will be dealing with a lot of different people—everyone from bands you want to book to businesses who you would like to attract to your place.
You can, of course, hire this out and let a professional promoter do this. If you choose them well, they will have the local contacts and have been around the block a couple of times. However, the drawback of a promoters is that they are expensive and that they will not really know your bar the way an insider knows it. This can become a problem.
The one time that a promoter is absolutely necessary, however, is for your grand opening. The grand opening involves so much work and so many complications that it is difficult to get through without the help of a promoter. As an owner, you will be dealing with training, liquor licenses, remodeling, hiring and so many other little details that need to be ironed out before you open your doors that you will simply not have the time to promote your opening at the level that you need it done. That is the time to leave marketing to the professionals. (For more on planning your Grand Opening see Grand Opening Ideas for Your Bar or Nightclub.)
Traditional Bar Promotional Ideas
The traditional bar promotional ideas, of course, involve handing out fliers and having happy hours. These tried and true bar promotions are still common place, as you have no doubt noticed and though they have become a bit of cliché, they have their place in the repertoire of promotional tactics. The key to remember about any bar promotions idea is that it should be targeted as part of an overall marketing strategy. You don’t just send one of your bartenders down to the corner to hand out a flier you threw together on your laptop the night before. Such amateurish attempts will only reflect poorly on your establishment in the long run.
The key to any promotion is doing it smartly. So, if you are going to have a flier, figure out where it is likely to have the best effect. An old trick of the trade is to avoid handing it out at on street corners and try to get your flier into local establishments. Make your flier into a coupon or pass for a free drink and try to get local stores to hand it with their sales. (For more on creating successful fliers see How to Design Effective Night Club Flyers.)Or, if there is a live theater around the corner you might agree to place posters for them on your walls and they will give out coupons for ½ off drinks at your place with a ticket stub from that night’s performance. Try to set up a win-win situation for your fellow merchants so you’re both working together.
Creating Bar Promotions that Pull in New Customers
Even if you are a low key neighborhood bar, you want to give people reasons to come through the doors—especially on those slow weeknights when people might not otherwise be inclined to head out for a beer.
One way to promote your bar is to have theme nights. Having TV’s tuned into Monday Night Football (and now Sunday and Thursday Night as well) and a banner outside so passersby know they can drop in and catch the game is a good way to draw Monday traffic in the Fall (basketball and baseball can work in the Spring and Summer). Having Trivia night on a Tuesday or Wednesday, or a “Ladies Night” on Wednesdays or Thursdays (when the ladies get drinks half-off say) can also boost interest in your place if you can pull it off. These simple kind of events, if advertised and executed properly, can help to bring not only your weekend regulars but new blood who might not be otherwise interested.
Another great way to bring people in is to have live music or a cool DJ. If you have a dance floor, that can add to the interest as well. Many establishments try to keep this lively as well by having different themes on different nights of the week. So while you might have a Top 40’s or Dance Music DJ on Friday and Saturday, you might have more mellow acoustic performers midweek, or even an open mic night for local musicians or comedians. (Open mics often come with the added benefit that the performers will bring friends and often have a stiff one themselves before braving the stage—though the attendant lack of talent may also drive regulars away. Good for Tuesday nights if that your graveyard night.)
Holidays and Other Occasions
The calendar also offers you a number of promotional possibilities. The ones most bars take advantage of is St. Patrick’s and Halloween. Typically, the beer turns green for the first and waitresses become witches and sexy cats for the second. An Irish Pub promotion for St. Patrick’s Day however, will usually go much farther than a bit of green in mid-March. The green beer will usually start coming out in February and the vibe given off is that the actual date will be a rollicking party.
But there are a number of other events that you can use for promotional purposes as well. Everything from Cinco de Mayo to something as silly as the twenty fifth anniversary of Cheers. You don’t really need much of an excuse for throwing a big party at your establishment. As long as you think you can pull people through the door with it, go for it.
One note of caution, however. Be sure that the types of customers you bring in for your promotions somewhat mesh with your regulars. If you bring in a lot of frat-boys with a particular promotion but your main customers are thirty-somethings looking for a chill time, you may find that neither sticks around after the promotion’s over.
Taking It to the Streets
Finally, another good way to promote your establishment is to make yourself visible at events outside of your four walls. So if your community all goes down to the fairgrounds on July Fourth for barbecue and fireworks, and businesses open stands, look into doing the same. If communities all pitch into some kind of a local charity event, like saving a local historical site, get involved and have your employees wear shirts with your bar’s name.
The more involved in the community you are, the more likely you are to get word of mouth from local merchants and community members.
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