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6 events to pack your bar with customers

October 30, 2019

The most challenging yet rewarding promotional targets are dead zones. If your bar was as busy on Monday and Tuesday nights as it is on Friday and Saturday nights, there would be no need for inventive strategic thinking. But most bar managers would be happier with a more robust bottom line. So how do you harvest new revenue across the quiet plains of your slower weeknights? It’s a concept we’ll call active community transplanting. Here’s the basic idea:

  • Stand out from the pack by offering something different. When people see something unusual and lively going on, they get curious. Activity attracts interest, and crowds attract crowds.
  • Reach and appeal to completely new audiences. It may feel uncomfortable to reach out to communities that aren’t your typical clientele, but that’s exactly what needs to happen.
  • Host events that translate well to social media or even local media coverage. The best bar marketing promotion is free promotion.

Self-proclaimed “watch nerd” Adam Craniotes spent countless hours on an internet message board for timepiece enthusiasts. One day, eager to meet some of those similarly obsessed pseudonymous characters in real life, he decided to invite anyone interested to join him after work on a Wednesday evening. The selected location was a divey, windowless lounge, tucked away up a narrow flight of stairs in Manhattan’s Koreatown district. First night, four people turned up. The following Wednesday at the sleepy Red Bar & Lounge, it was two, including Adam. But, with considerable help from social media, the numbers gradually grew and today his once-humble watch club now has 40 chapters across four continents.

And while his watch “crew” would take their name from that first meeting spot, Adam was lured to a larger lounge in Koreatown, Ichi Cellar, where the savvy owner recognized that by committing a prime bank of plush booths and generous drink specials to the endeavor he was going to boost his slow Wednesday nights from 7pm onward substantially (at a venue that typically doesn’t come to life until after 10pm on any night). A comfortable, uncrowded, easily-commandeered space with booze was pretty much all Adam and friends needed to meet up, talk shop, and compare watches. And of course, order drinks.

Collecting is social, and social media only makes it even more so. Granted, this particular success story is a remarkable one—and it didn’t happen overnight. But it highlights the real and accessible value of transplanting and nurturing a niche community. Once that bond is established, the dividends are evergreen. Adam and company continue to do all the heavy-lifting while Ichi Cellar, simply by remaining a doting host, wins big consistently.

So the question becomes, who can you draw to your establishment? Here are six ideas:

  1. International communities. Think beyond Oktoberfest and Cinco De Mayo. Let’s say you have a thriving local Filipino community in your area. Reach out to someone already active in that world and offer to set up a free Filipino-style karaoke night every Tuesday, replete with drink specials and snacks. They key is finding, welcoming, listening, and nurturing.
  2. Calling all foodies. Partner with excellent local food trucks or even do some pop-up restaurant pairings. The idea is to make some culinary magic happen on a weekly basis, with thoughtful drink specials to match. Who are the big foodies active on social media in your area? Give them a platform to meet their foodie followers IRL and share recipes. You don’t even need a kitchen.
  3. Activate activists. Numerous charities and environmental groups (ideally ones with a big social component like the Surfrider Foundation), could have a chapter in your area. Make your bar their unofficial meeting spot by officially offering up a package of promotional incentives. Even better if it’s a cause that aligns with your bar’s brand, or has personal significance. There are definitely tangible benefits to establishing a charitable presence in your community. And millennials, who tend to spend more of their disposable income on going out, are especially active in social causes, often integrating them into their broader social life.
  4. Lean into LGBTQ+. Sure, gay bars aren’t going anywhere, but we’ve come a long way since Stonewall. As current pop-culture underscores, young people are more fluid and inclusive than ever. Creating weekly nights that give a special celebratory social space to active, creative pockets of your local LGBTQ+ community and their allies can definitely turn a Monday into a Friday.
  5. Get creative with creative types. Create a salon-like environment for visual artists, writer groups, spoken-word poets., singer-songwriters, guitarists, dancers, digital beat makers, yoga enthusiasts, or even simple book clubs. Give them a showcase where they can get comfortable and they will give you energy, activity, organic promotion, and, yes, drink orders. If you luck into a few really talented folks, they just might bestow the added bonus of fans who become a following.
  6. Shop therapy. There are surely cool new brands and small business vendors making some noise in your area. Host weekly pop-up shop showcase events that they’ll promote for you. The bigger the social media following the better, but it’s also about products that appeal to a consumer segment that appeals to you. Same goes for the collector community route. Remember that shared obsessions are inherently social.

Scan meetup.com for active communities already doing interesting things. Once upon a time, the Beatles were a 50’s-rock tune cover band playing a suburban teen social club operated by their original drummer’s mother until someone from The Cavern, a real Liverpool venue, decided they might be a hit with the lunchtime crowd. Point is, if something interesting is already working on small scale, why not offer up the larger scale of your bar? Over time, support given becomes support received. And remember: if that active community is already out there and underserved, two people turning up the first night isn’t a failure, it’s a start.


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