Opening a bar is a big undertaking. But staying in business? Even harder. That’s why marketing your bar to new and existing patrons is so important — so let's talk bar promotion ideas.
Not only do these seven bar marketing strategies help you attract new customers, they keep them coming back. Having great food and an awesome atmosphere is only the beginning for your bar or nightclub. If you want to attract new customers and turn them into loyal fans of your bar, you have to keep them engaged.
With consumers’ attitudes towards alcohol changing — and alcohol sales left to fluctuate — you have to work to stand out, capture attention, and give guests a real reason to choose your bar over your competitors.
Here are seven bar marketing ideas you can try, some with the help of your bar’s POS system, to get found by new customers and keep them coming back.
1. Hyper-Target Your Social Media Advertising
When done correctly, social media advertising can help your bar successfully reach new potential customers, and even allow you to determine the return on investment of your efforts.
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have advanced targeting capabilities that let you get hyper-specific with who sees your ads. Start by creating audiences that fit one or more of your bar’s buyer personas. Here’s an example of a hyper-targeted audience: women between the ages of 23 and 35 who live within a 15-mile radius of your location, and have expressed interest in wine by liking a wine-related page or posts on Facebook. The more targeted your audience and demographics, the more relevant your ads will be.
You can also set up your social ads so that people only see them on specific days and during specific times. Does your bar have a few particularly slow nights? Launch ads to drive people in on those nights using a special drink or food offer. To track your efforts, require that guests save the offer on their phones and show it when paying the bill, or say the promotion code to the server when ordering.
2. Make Sure Your Menu is Accessible Online
When looking for a new bar to try out, people often do a search online using generic terms like "bars near me" or "places to get wings.” If they aren’t specifically looking for your bar, they won’t search for your bar.
Because of this, you have to make sure your menu is displayed on your website for Google and other search engines to index. Indexing refers to the process of search engines adding your website pages to search results.
Publish and upkeep your bar’s menu on your website, and on other sites where potential guests will be looking like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and OpenTable. If you don’t, it’ll be difficult for search engines to crawl your website, and for guests to find your bar when they’re searching.
3. Make Sure Your Bar’s on the Map
Google primarily uses its own internal data when mapping where businesses are located, so the best way for your bar to appear on Google Maps (and in search results) is to create a Google My Business account.
It’s free to create a Google My Business account, and it allows you to manage and update your bar’s crucial information, like your address, contact info, hours, and more. By creating and up-keeping your account, you can more easily be found by — and connect with — customers using Google Search and Maps.
On Apple Maps (specific to Apple devices), your bar is likely already showing up if it’s listed on Yelp. But if you do a search and your bar isn’t showing up properly on Apple Maps, here’s how you can fix it:
Search for your location.
When you find your location, click “Report an Issue.”
Select the appropriate issue: Location on Map, Place Details, or Other Issue.
Select “Location on Map” and move it to the correct location.
Another option to get found by potential guests is by advertising on navigation app Waze. Waze offers various ad formats that allow you to reach localized audiences (and nearby drivers).
4. Entertain Your Guests With Games and Activities
Once you get guests in through the doors, you have to find entertaining ways to keep them for more than one round — and coming back for more. The more guests enjoy their time at your bar, the more likely they are to come back, leave positive reviews online, and recommend your bar to friends and family.
One way to entertain guests — and encourage them to bring friends and family along — is to provide a selection of bar games and activities. Because of the social nature of games like pool and darts, customers are more likely to bring larger groups of people, instead of individual friends or family members, which will only lead to increased food and drink sales.
Keeping customers engaged with games and activities also increases the likelihood of them staying at your bar for longer, increasing the average check size per customer.
You can also boost profits by charging customers to play these games, but be smart about what games or activities you charge for, as it may scare some customers away. Charging people to play pool makes sense; charging people to play a board game will likely raise some eyebrows. If you’re in a student neighborhood, you may consider offering free pool — and letting your community know that your bar has free pool in your ad messaging.
Another idea here is to offer weekly specials for certain games, like Napper Tandy's in Walpole, Massachusetts. They offer free pool for all on Monday and Tuesday nights to draw people in on what are relatively slow nights.
Another great way to draw in crowds and keep customers at your bar for a few hours is to host a trivia night. Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Massachusetts hosts an independently run trivia night every Tuesday in their taproom. Blarney Stone in Boston, Massachusetts hosts a very popular trivia night that’s free to play, with prizes for winners. You could keep the trivia more general or make it about a specific topic (music, movies, books) to really stand out.
5. Host Live Music
Regularly hosting live music is a great way to attract new customers and build a strong following in your area.
First things first: Before you can host live music, you need to make sure you have the proper permits and licenses. The licensing authority in your state approves annual entertainment licenses where food or drink is served on the location’s premises. This can apply to concerts or public shows conducted on bar premises. You’ll also need to get the appropriate music licenses from organizations like The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI).
Once you have your licenses and permits, you have to find artists to play in your bar. Promote that you host live events on your website, with an area for musicians, booking agents, or event coordinators to submit requests. When you’re starting out, you could reach out to local bands or artists directly to let them know about your bar and gauge their interest. One way to find local artists is to check the event listings of smaller concert venues in your area, then reach out to them from there. And once you book a band or artist to perform in your bar, make sure you effectively promote the event to their fans and others in your area. Make sure artists know that playing at your bar means awesome promotion — they’ll spread the word to their other friends who are in bands.
The biggest music fans are loyal to bars and restaurants that support their community and scene, so working collaboratively with treating local musicians, and treating them well, can result in a growing customer loyalty.
6. Partner with Local Businesses
Are there like-minded local businesses in your area to partner with for an evening? Pop-up events are a great way to bring your businesses together and join forces. Pop-up events like specialty food nights, craft nights, and more can help drive more business for your bar, while also benefiting the business you partner with.
Lamplighter Brewing in Cambridge, Massachusetts hosts a monthly night where Saus, a Boston restaurant, brings in and sells their locally famous poutine, a crowd-pleasing combo that always draws in the crowds.
7. Start a Bar Blog
A blog on your bar’s website is a great way to build your brand, showcase the expertise of your team, drive awareness, and keep your loyal customers engaged. It’s also a great way to build your email list through a dedicated newsletter.
If you decide to use bar blogging as a digital marketing channel, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Stick to a regular posting schedule. Whether it’s daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, choose something you can realistically keep up with.
Write about something that’s valuable to your customers. This can include drink recipes, fun drinking game ideas, or a topic that your customers value such as music or art. Choose something that your customers will want to share online.
On your blog, include a call-to-action that drives customers to your bar. This can be a link to book a reservation, or special offers for your subscribers.
Bring These Bar Marketing Ideas to Life
Having an awesome atmosphere and great drinks isn’t enough – you need to be able to effectively market your bar to attract and retain customers. Hopefully these bar marketing ideas gave you some new strategies to implement so you can reach the next level of success in your bar.