The formula for advertising a local bar used to be pretty simple – distribute an eye-catching flyer, tout a drink discount at happy hour, and watch the new customers roll in. But today, most of us get our news from the tiny phone in our pocket, with ads flying by and popping up; according to Toast data, 67% of restaurants pay for ads on social media. Just about every business owner knows that advertising is critical to success. Bars are unique in that they rely heavily on the buzz from word-of-mouth referrals. The question is: in today’s complicated world of advertising, how do bars reach their customers? (Hint: just like a good cocktail, it’s all about the mix.)
In this article, you will learn the basics of bar advertising, to round out your bar marketing plan. Whether you’re a swanky speakeasy or the local watering hole, bar advertising is a unique endeavor with specific challenges. Knowing how to draw in new customers and engage with regulars is one of the most crucial aspects of running a successful bar business. After all, you’ll need something to differentiate yourself from the nearly 70,000 bars operating in the U.S. today. According to IBISWorld, the bars and nightclubs market size grew by 14.6% in 2022 and is expected to continue its upward trend. Effective advertising is the key to capturing your piece of the market and inspiring repeat customers.a
Define Your Target Audience
Before you can build a connection with your bar patrons through advertising, you must define your target audience. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but with the right research and communication strategies, you’ll be able to edge out the competition.
Selling any product, regardless of your industry, is all about meeting needs. When choosing a bar, people are often looking for more than a fruity cocktail or a cold beer. They want to meet with friends, chat with familiar bartenders, listen to music, and maybe embarrass themselves on karaoke night. What are the specific needs your bar fulfills that other bars in the area don’t? Doing a deep dive into the demographics of your target audience — including age, gender, location, and interests — will help you answer that question. Before you spend money on advertising, you need to analyze the preferences and habits of your customers and understand what inspires them to keep coming back. The connection with your customer should never start or end with the point of sale.
There are several tools at your fingertips to do this. Survey data is a popular way to define your audience. With survey sites like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, you can pose open-ended questions to potential customers about brand awareness and positioning to glean meaningful insights. Similarly, social media analytics is the practice of gathering data to get the pulse on your bar on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the like. Sites like Hub Spot and Sprout Social will tell you how many people interact with your content on social media and how many sales your posts generate.
Let’s be real: most internet users are determined to block, mute, or scroll past any ad that comes their way. One thing that makes a difference, and inspires people to click, is a strong online presence. Even with relevant pop-up ads touting taco Tuesday, potential customers might not give your bar a second thought without all the elements in place. This includes an optimized website, a solid social media presence, and a smooth ordering system to ensure you make the most of your online advertising. With so many bars vying for attention, you need to be firing on all cylinders.
Organic Online Advertising
Online advertising generally falls into two categories: paid and organic. A blend of the two will give your restaurant the farthest reach. First, we’ll learn about organic advertising. There are many free, yes free, ways to boost your followers online.
Social Media: Organic social media is any free content shared on social media, including videos, posts, blogs, stories, and more. According to Toast’s Restaurant Success Report, 91% of restaurants turn to Facebook to promote their businesses, with Instagram coming in a close second at 78%. It can be as simple as posting news of a wing and beer special during a big sports game or as elaborate as a slick video of your mixologist juggling cocktail shakers. Approach this as an opportunity to tell your story, broadcasting your bar’s unique vibe and brand personality to the world. For more on engaging with customers and driving sales, check out our restaurant-focused Guide to Social Media.
Search Engine Optimization: When someone types “fun bar near me” into Google they’re likely to get hundreds if not thousands of results. Search engine optimization (SEO) will help your bar’s website appear at the top. Consider these sobering statistics: 27.6% of people click on the first Google result, and only 0.63% go to the second page, according to Backlinko. Local SEO will improve your ranking and visibility, translating to more clicks and customers. While there’s no shortage of advice on SEO best practices, an excellent place to start is our detailed Guide for Beginners, written explicitly for restaurant owners.
- Online Directories and Review Sites: Online directories and review sites help people weed through local listings and find bars that meet their needs faster. Registering in a business directory like Google My Business is a free and easy way to give your bar an air of authority. And perhaps more importantly, your bar will appear on Google Maps. Think of these directories as online versions of the Yellow Pages. High-profile review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor provide a different service, giving customers a real-world taste of the vibe and drinking experience at your bar. Other customers write reviews, so you can easily get the inside scoop (flaws and all) about the atmosphere, food, drink, and décor. According to a study by Northwestern University, these crowd-sourced review sites profoundly impact sales.
Guide to Restaurant Social Media Marketing
Learn how to optimize your social media presence to showcase your brand, tell your story, attract new customers, and engage with your audience.
Paid Online Advertising
Sometimes you need to cut through the digital clutter, and that’s where paid advertising comes in. It’s a more precise way of targeting customers, optimized for reaching the specific people who may actually visit your bar.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: PPC advertising is where a bar pays a publisher (like Google or social media platforms) only when someone clicks on their ad. The fee is known as cost-per-click (CPC). This method is considered very cost-effective compared to an ad campaign. Since paid search ads appear at the top of the Google page (the ones marked “sponsored”), it’s often a good return on your investment. The most popular platforms include YouTube Ads, Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, and Microsoft Ads. It’s easy to laser focus on specific markets, track the number of clicks, and scale up or pull back depending on your results.
Social Media Ads: No one is asking how Facebook makes money anymore. It is one of the fastest-growing online ad networks in the world, representing more than 60 percent of social media ad revenue globally. Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are other popular platforms that enable you to create targeted advertisements based on specific demographics and interests. For instance, you can promote your trivia night to a “puzzle” audience on Facebook or find customers who like country music for your country and blues night. Unlike the old print and TV advertising model, you can fine-tune your ad and your audience as you learn who interacts with it.
- Display Advertising: It’s the O.G. of digital advertising: the Banner Ad. Typically shaped as a strip and located at the top of a page, banner ads can be effective if placed on relevant sites and blogs your target audience frequents (relevant being the keyword). Display ads typically have lower click-through rates but can help create brand awareness. Banner ads now come in all shapes and sizes, including videos, pop-ups, and interactive features.
Collaborations and Partnerships
Collaborations with local businesses, complementary brands, and influencers are a great way to extend your audience reach.
Strategic partnerships with other relevant businesses have always been a tried-and-true method to increase awareness and capture new customers. When approaching potential partners, outline what’s in it for them. Bars often partner with nightclubs, local festivals, music venues, and nearby restaurants as the clientele is similar.
Social feeds and YouTube channels are flooded with people trying new bar and discussing the drinks. How do you rise above the fray? Influencers still hold, well, influence in the world of online marketing. Identify social media influencers in your area — people with large followings who post frequently — and strike a deal. Allow them to see (and post about) a hidden side of your bar that most patrons don’t see. It could be a look behind the counter, an interview with the staff, or a video of your mixologist making a new drink special. Bars often offer influencers free libations and food for sharing their experience with their followers. This is a low-impact way to increase visibility and credibility for your restaurant.
Traditional Advertising Methods
- Print Advertising: Nowadays, it’s easy to forget that print ads tend to be bolder, more original, and more memorable than digital ads. You can get creative with eye-catching colors, fonts, sizes, and layouts. Consider advertising your bar in local newspapers, magazines, and community newsletters to connect with an offline audience.
- Flyers and Brochures: Having a physical flyer or brochure in your hands captures your attention immediately. There are no ad blockers or ignore buttons in the real world. The key is distributing them in high-traffic areas where your intended target audience will be, like around local businesses, community centers, and campuses. Employees streaming out of a business park may want to let off some steam on a Friday night. Incentives, like discounts or coupon codes, will make people look twice.
- Local Events and Sponsorships: One of the main advantages of participating in local events and sponsorships is that it inspires high trust among your target audience. Having your bar’s name emblazoned on a banner at your neighborhood street festival, for instance, may be just the nudge locals need to check out your establishment. Getting involved in local events signals a solid commitment to your community and is a wonderful way to build brand recognition.
Tracking Advertising Metrics
After putting things in motion, it’s time to sit back and ride the gravy train, right? Wrong! It’s crucial to track their effectiveness to make data-driven decisions (and not rely on hunches or feelings). Here are some key metrics to be familiar with:
Impressions: The number of times your ad was displayed
Clicks: The number of times your ad was clicked on.
Click-Through-Rate (CTR): The percentage of people who view a website, see your ad, and then actually click on it.
Conversion Rate: This takes the CTR a step further. The percentage of click-throughs that lead to a sale is a valuable way to determine an ad’s success.
Cost per Click (CPR): The average amount you pay when someone clicks on your ad.
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The total cost of winning a new customer through advertising. To calculate your CAC, define a period of time (month, quarter, etc.), take all marketing and sales expenses, and divide it by the number of customers.
Navigating the world of bar advertising may seem more complex than the old days of littering the street with flyers, but with our practical tips and tactics, you can turn all those potential customers into regulars.
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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.