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Keep Regulars Rolling In With These Bar Promotion Ideas

Josh MosleyAuthor

Everyone loves a night out at the bar, whether they’re carousing with co-workers for happy hour, connecting with a pal that lives minutes away (that they somehow haven’t seen in four months), or coming to watch their favorite team play.

And you know what gets patrons even more excited than drinks at their favorite neighborhood spot? Discounted drinks. Use specials and promotions to keep your barstools full night after night.


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What Are Bar Promotions?

Two Dollar Tuesdays. Thirsty Thursdays. Ladies Drink Free. 

The catchy names are designed to get people in the door and drink at great rates. The more bodies you get in the door, the more drinks they buy, and the increased sales more or less cancel out the discounts. These promotions can happen nightly, weekly, or on special occasions. If you’re in a big sports town, gameday specials can last all day, enticing customers to roll in at all hours. 

How to Design an Effective Bar Promotion

Look to your regulars: You know who’s walking through your doors and sitting at your counter each night. College students. Young professionals. Sometimes they flock in on Wednesdays, and sometimes on Sundays.

Build promotions that appeal to their routines. Ask them what kinds of bar specials they’d like to see you run. 

Look at your location: Are you downtown? Are you smack dab in the middle of a university stronghold? Are you a no-food bar that’s next door to a trendy restaurant? Are you down the street from the new brewery in town? Do you regularly book bands and acts to play your venue?

Use your surroundings as a jumping-off point to build bar promotion ideas. A good special will reveal itself when it organically aligns with where your bar is situated. 

Look at your inventory: Moving inventory is the goal of any bar promotion. Manage stock as you normally would, and look for opportunities to feature certain offerings at discounted rates.

Is there a new liquor on the market looking to gain traction? Ask them to come out and give away free samples. Are you wanting to feature a drink from one of your favorite distributors, but you don’t have the room to showcase it? Run a special to make room for the new stock. The good thing about an inventory-based special is it can be impromptu (and effective). 

Look at the calendar: Does bar attendance have seasonal peaks and valleys? Are summers usually pretty dead while the fall and winters are bustling? 

Run bar specials that align with peak traffic times for your bar, and avoid them when visitor numbers are typically low. Keep margins low as well during those times, so your bottom line doesn’t suffer.

Look at the competition: What do competing bars do that you don’t? Can you beat them anywhere? Are they better than you in other areas? Connect your bar specials to what you do well and where you can improve. 

Lean on the “special” part and plan promotions around something that’ll help you stand out. 

What Should I Budget For?

The adage “You have to spend money to make money” has stood the test of time for a reason. Every go-to promotion idea starts with a risk, mostly a monetary one. 

For starters, make sure you have enough built-in budget to get all the products you’ll need. In the case of a new promotion, work within your usual budget, and see if you sell your allotment out. That way, you don’t overextend yourself right out of the gate. 

Next, build hourly wages into your budget to guarantee you have enough people to handle the rush. If you think you’re going to take a hit on the promotion, keep your staff lean so you’re not having to pay for unnecessary labor on top of lost profits. If the special is a proven moneymaker, staff up to handle the rush. Either way, build labor into your ledger.

Finally, make sure you get the word out. If you’re trying to keep costs down, there’s no cheaper form of marketing than social media. Social media marketing comes with little-to-no overhead, but if you want to boost your ad and get it in front of the right people, you can do so for a small fee. 

The 10 Best Bar Promotion Ideas

Are you a new name around town trying to make some noise? What about a city staple looking to freshen things up? Whether you fall into one of those buckets or somewhere in between, here are 10 special ideas that can get people in the door: 

Plan Around a Nearby Event. Check your calendar to see what kind of big events are happening in your community and look for a way to tie them in. 
Example: Are you in the heart of a college town or a stone’s throw away from a professional stadium? Offer gameday deals on drinks and food to get them in before or after the final whistle blows. 

Group Rates. Target small, medium, or large groups with discounted promotional opportunities. One group will tell another.
Example: Offer bottle service and booth reservations to bachelor/bachelorette parties. If the group pays a certain amount up front, discount their individual drinks by $1-2. 

Holiday Deals. Holidays encourage people to go out and have a few. 
Example: St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are well-established drinking days. The day before Thanksgiving is also a popular bar night. Play ball with discount domestics or well drinks. 

Regular Happenings. Catch the after-work crowd with creative and enticing happy hour offerings. 
Example: Localize your outreach with sweet discounts for employees of nearby businesses. Offer half-priced drinks and appetizers on certain days to maximize profits. 

Loyalty. Customers love being rewarded for their patronage. Target specials towards frequent visitors. 
Example: A punch card might be too low budget and an app might be way out of your price range. Look for something in between that tracks loyalty and rewards it down the line.  

Product Releases. People are naturally drawn toward something shiny and new. If you can preview a new drink before it hits the market, team up with a distributor for a one-night only deal. 
Example: Promote your own stuff! If you have an in-house brewer or distiller, build specials around new releases and discount them by the 6-pack or bottle.

Celebrations. These can be your go-to specials for people celebrating a birthday, an achievement, or just, you know, a really good day!
Example: Do you have an in-house birthday shot or beer? Do a buy-one-get-one free deal for birthday girls and guys.

Bar Milestone. Every year a bar stays open is a year to celebrate. Ring in the important days in your history with discounted beverages. 
Example: Is it your second anniversary? Do $2 off domestics. Five years? Five or more shots at half price! 

Charitable Opportunities. Everyone loves a good cause. If a charity is near and dear to your bar’s heart, do what you can to support it!
Example: Designate a night or week each year to honor your charity, and donate the proceeds of specials.

Down Time. Get butts in seats, even during down times. It’s a unique way to keep the lights on and buzz up. 
Example: Summertime and winter specials can capitalize on people being away for weeks or months on end.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Promotions

Build a baseline from the start. With any bar promotion, the goal is to see how impactful it is and shoot for the stars. Be deliberate and examine any ongoing progress.

See how Monday happy hours measure up against Wednesday. Did your game day special spike or drop over a week or month period? Look at the month-to-month spends on each regular promotion. Is it worth the investment? 

Again, there’s risk with any new special. Keep a finger on the pulse and make sure the bottom line shows it’s worth it. 

Bar promotions are your opportunity to stake a claim within a certain audience or location. Think about the ones that make the most sense for your establishment, plan accordingly, and monitor the financial impacts. If it’s special enough, add it to the arsenal of things that make your bar stand out above the rest. 

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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.