Not Just Child’s Play: Win with Bar Games

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Running a bar or club isn’t all fun and games. However, introducing or amping up fun and games in your establishment can lead to more new customers who drink and eat while they play. In fact, some bar owners have “won” up to 300% more in sales by introducing games to their venues.

Bars and games have been a match for ages. Customers playing cards and darts in saloons and pubs, watching sports on big screens, mastering Mario in the arcade, the tried-and-true trivia night...and now sporting VR headsets to become part of the action.

Games can be a big win for your venue for a few reasons:

  • They attract groups of people...and groups mean you serve more food and beverages.
  • Generation Z (now of drinking age) is willing to pay for experiences rather than just products. In fact, statistics show that people of all ages are drawn to fun activities in bars.
  • People who play (and watch) games will stick around longer, waiting for their turn or to find out who will win.
  • Games and activities add a novelty factor to your venue – one that can attract press and lead to more marketing value. For example, the media frequently publishes lists (like this one from The Infatuation) which attract both locals and tourists. Just search online for “bars with games” in your own location and you’ll probably immediately see recommendations – and ideas for how you can stand out in your geography.


What Do They Want to Come Out to Play?

The answer depends on who your players (customers and prospects) are, and what your budget is for equipment and marketing.

Who’s bored of board games and barrels of monkeys? Not Millennials, apparently. From the Black Rabbit in Brooklyn, New York, to Up-Down in Minneapolis to The Whining Pig in Arizona, bar managers are stocking up on a variety of playtime pastimes. “Unplugged” fun like Trivial Pursuit, Bananagrams, Operation, Cards Against Humanity and even checkers and chess require minimal investment, and can attract Meet-Up and Facebook groups looking to connect with other gamers. Pundamonium Pun Slam is a nationwide movement in which groups gather at local venues to compete with other punsters on stage. Game nights like these require more coordination and equipment (and sometimes even a fee to organizers), but hardcore fans will seek out your place and spend time and money.

If you have more space in your venue, choose from more interactive and athletic options: ping pong, billiards, cornhole, giant Jenga, dance-offs, and even shuffleboard, mini golf, and bocce.

Pac-Man anyone? Retro gaming has made a comeback; arcade games and Nintendo are popular with a range of generations.

Now, add a headset and you have a whole new form of gaming. You can get players off their couches and into your bar if you have the right technology and targeted marketing to reach fans. A whopping 74% of men and 56% of women call themselves gamers these days. Virtual Reality gaming is in its infancy, but spirits brands have been testing it in bars around the country. Headsets are getting smaller and more affordable, so keep your eye on this category. Crunchbase reports that more than 100 companies each secured $40 million or more in funding for game development. Check out this analysis of who’s playing what these days.

Arts & crafts are not technically games but have seen a huge surge in popularity. Consider “paint and sip” establishments like the Pinot’s Palette franchise and the DIY concept bar Upstairs Circus, which gives brunch-goers and others an opportunity to make a project and learn a new skill. It’s like summer camp with spirits! Breaking the ice over handcrafting (with craft beer) can be great for date nights, group celebrations, and singles. Get creative even on a minimal budget. How about a Lego night with prizes for the most creative structures (which is a great Instagram photo op too)?


Don’t Just Roll the Dice!

Like any special promotion or activity, gaming will only work if you let people know it’s happening. Use social media and local press to spread the word. Be sure your activities are listed on your website, and take and post lots of photos when the action is happening.

Consider game night specials the same way bars promote pitchers and wings during sporting events. Theme your menu to the game. Offer prizes for champions and reward them with gift cards for your venue. (They’ll be sure to come back and bring friends.)

Partnering with a local or national charity (especially around the holiday season) and having a “games for good” event builds community goodwill. Donate a percentage of your profits to a cause. Music platform Spotify is doing that on a grand scale in the UK, hosting the largest ever music quiz event.


Play Games with Your Staff Too!

Gamification has made its way into the education and training world. In fact, 80% of learners said that education would be more productive if it were game-oriented. Getting your team together for group training is probably close to impossible, but asking your servers and bartenders to hone their skills with online training is a practical solution and way more fun than sitting in the back room. Some companies specialize in online training specifically for the bar and restaurant industry. Innovative company 1HUDDLE brings engaging training programs to where your staff spends hours: their phones! By offering gamified training, you’ll also be able to get a sense of how your staff scores on various skills and where they might need coaching.


Tallying it All Up

As with any investment, be patient and committed to success. Ask your guests for their suggestions and be willing to fold ‘em if something isn’t working. Make sure you have an integrated marketing program in place and encourage happy gamers to spread the word. If you play well, you’ll be shouting “Score!” often at your bar or club.

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