Small Investment, Big Improvement

Best in Bar ManagementAlthough the headlines talk about economic recovery, for many of us, times are still tough and maybe you’re feeling kind of low. You know you have to do something to spark sales, but you just feel frozen, maybe even a little beat up after these lean years. I’ve been there, and I‘m here to tell you, “Jump up and shake it off.” We are in this business for a reason — most of us because we love people and delight in showing them a good time. After all, we are the neighborhood ambassadors of good times, especially in tough times! It is our job to make sure folks know there’s a place to go to cut loose from the stress we’re all feeling and complaining about.

This is not a business for the faint of heart, but if your doors remained open during the recession, you’ve got what it takes. OK, you may not have the cash it takes to mount a huge marketing program to drum up business, but no worries. Take a moment to consider these low-cost ideas for not just surviving but also thriving in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Get Your House in Order

Remember, no one wants to party in a messy place. After secret shopping at a local sushi bar that was looking to increase its business, I set out to help management clean up the establishment and welcome new guests. I found the service to be less than friendly, and you never got what you ordered. Plus, the bathrooms’ noxious odor was more than most people could handle. We spent the next 30 days going over the basic service procedures, and, in doing so, raised the morale of the staff. Cleaning up the house helped raise check averages as well. Once the place was sparkling — from the bathroom to the bartender’s smile — we were ready to take on some new customers.

Tools: Cleaning supplies, cleaning checklist and service training.

Define the Target

When we open a bar or club, we say we just want business, but is that what we really mean? In reality, we want to attract the right business — the patrons who will build our profits quickly. For example, I worked with a sports bar located in a hot new neighborhood and the owner wanted more customers, hoping to draw from the nearby neighborhoods. To the west were very upscale families and to the east, downtown, were young business people. I asked the owner where he wanted to spend his limited time and money, and it quickly became clear we needed to hit the downtown district, which is rich in young, upwardly mobile males with disposable income. This would be more lucrative than the older married people who don’t care for loud music, no matter how good the food and drinks. When you’re limited in resources, spend time going after the low-hanging fruit. This will give you an opportunity to have some quick success, and it will make you feel better about your efforts. Also, it will make your staff believe in what you are doing for them in regards to earning more tips.

Tool: Local market knowledge.

Man holding piggy bankViral Target Tip

Once you’re getting that new traffic through the doors, make sure your staff is letting you know about new guests who are coming in. Take nightly notes of your guests and offer staff bounties for introducing you to new patrons. Remember: Customers love to know the owner. It makes them feel like big shots.

Speaking of shots, let the staff have a certain amount of marketing comps in the form of shots for the guest. Make a batch of shots that you can ask one of your suppliers to underwrite (where legal). One bottle of spirits can make 50 to 75 shots, and if you offer just one to each new guest, it doesn’t take up any “Belly Real Estate” — your customer does not get full and still has room to buy his or her budgeted amount of drinks and food for the night. The bartender or server now has a reason to introduce you to the customer. Once that customer knows you and has enjoyed a shot on the house, he or she will brag about it to his or her friends, causing a chain reaction of viral marketing and, ultimately, growing the list of guests who can add to the health of your bottom line.

Tools: A donated bottle, an interesting shot recipe and a friendly, welcoming bartender.

Reach Out

Be the mayor of your neighborhood — do the walk and the talk. Go door to door and meet your neighboring business operators. Pick an area and split it up between you and another manager. In an urban market, you might want to use five blocks as a parameter, and in the suburbs start with two miles. Introduce yourself to the other owners and managers of the local businesses and invite them and their staffs to come and see you at your place. Once people get to know you and understand your establishment, they consistently will come and do business with you. Even if you did this during your grand opening or anniversary party, their staff, just like yours, changes regularly, so be sure to follow up. Hand them gift certificates and your business card, and tell them to always ask for you when they come in; be sure to collect their business cards in return so you can add it to your database of contacts.

After you meet the other business owners, follow up. Send everyone you met in the neighborhood a hand-written note. I have a “3x3x3 rule” when it comes to these notes: It takes three minutes to write three lines, and do it within three days of meeting them. Old school manners go a long way when it comes to doing business in tough times like these. I prefer to give my money to someone who cares about me versus someone I don’t know or who simply didn’t seem to care.

Tools: Business cards, neighborhood discount cards, gift certificates.

Reach In

Start a simple database, and use it. I am not saying you have to be the king (or queen) of social networking, but you should share information with your guests a few times a month. Every one of you has something that would be interesting to the folks in your database, and they’re interested to hear what you have to say. Come up with a message from the owner telling them about upcoming seasonal promotions. It’s important to use images and video to get guests’ attention, which can be easily added to an e-newsletter with iPhones and digital cameras.

Additionally, we recommend that newsletters have content that is inspirational, informational and educational. To inspire guests, write about one of your patrons or staff members who is doing good works in your town. We all have homegrown heroes among our loyal guests who are doing important things to better our community, so let’s share their stories. The informational piece is the call to action. Ask them to come in, spend some money and do their part to stimulate (Dare I say gin up?) this sobering economy. The educational piece can be a simple how-to idea, such as creating a Hot Date Cocktail at home. We don’t always want to talk to them about coming by, and sometimes we just want to let them know we’re here to help them out even on nights in.

Tools: Digital camera, information card or sign-up sheet, e-mail marketing program.

Raise your game to pour on the profits; then raise a glass with your guests to toast better times. NCB

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