Social Skills

No Longer Just a Nice Way to Connect with Guests, Social Media is a Necessity for Success at Venues of All Sizes

Social Media icons

Let’s face it: We live in a social world, one where your patrons — and you — are constantly connected, be it through Facebook and Twitter or cell phone technology including texting and smartphone applications. The benefits of social media are great — It’s easy! It’s effective! It’s (mostly) free! — but if you’re not using social media correctly, or aren’t using it at all, you’re hurting your business.

The challenge for today’s operator is how to use social media effectively. To find out some strategies for success, we tapped into three venues of varying sizes and in different geographic areas that have social media tactics down and are using it to generate both traffic and profits.

Creating a Connection

Though a relatively small bar at 145 seats plus a 75-seat patio, Tap & Mallet in Rochester, N.Y., is massive on the social media scene.

Tap & Mallet interior

Owner Joe McBane describes his bar and restaurant as an upscale contemporary pub with a heavy craft beer focus. Along with its modern style comes a tech-savvy online presence.

“Initially when we opened [in 2007], I knew we wanted a website and wanted a good one,” he says. “With the variety of product we offer, I wanted the site to be easy for my staff to update. So, I began with that and then one of my regulars spoke to me about Twitter. I checked it out and my social media [usage] grew from there.”

Currently the bar has around 900 followers on Twitter and nearly 1,100 fans on Facebook. These pages are under McBane’s personal control; he tweets four to five times a day and updates the bar’s Facebook status about once a day, on everything from what’s new on tap to job openings.

But McBane is careful in how he uses these social media outlets. Rather than just spewing information at his fans and followers, he has a conversation with them, which is key to social media success. By responding to their messages, fans realize you care about them and that promotes loyalty, helping them get to know you.

“I don’t let my employees update because I think it’s important to have a personality behind something like Twitter. People who follow me have a connection with me and know me from my style of posts. You need consistency,” he says.

McBane began posting on Twitter to draw guests into his bar to receive perks. For example, his tweet might read “Come in and say ‘turkey’ for half off your first drink.”

“It doesn’t cost you anything,” he explains, “and the other cool thing is how many people actually take me up on the offer and then stay and purchase something additional at full price.”

McBane is looking into adding the growing Foursquare to his social media repertoire. Foursquare is a location-based social networking site that allows people to “sign in” when they arrive at locations such as Tap & Mallet and earn points for checking in; notifications also can go out to Foursquare users’ Twitter and Facebook connections. If a guest comes into Tap & Mallet more than any of the other signed in guests, he or she becomes “the mayor” for the day, for example.

Through such hands-on usage of social media, bars of any size can interact with guests, getting to know their followers and fans and creating a personal connection that will drive customer loyalty — and sales.

Outsourcing Online Efforts

Sometimes, to ensure a job is done well, it’s best to outsource it to people who can meet — or exceed — your goals. That’s Mike Tracy’s social media philosophy for his 350-person-capacity club Katwalk in Manhattan. An outside group handles the work on social networking sites to make sure each operates at its full potential for New York’s party-goers — a group that is extremely devoted to technology and cyber networking. “I look at our pages every day, but the day-to-day maintenance is sourced out,” Tracy says.

Katwalk bartender

Previously, Tracy used to run his social media and SMS texting only, but he switched to My Nightclub Manager, which runs on revenue sharing rather than the typical monthly fee, for all of his marketing efforts. “I brought on a team comprised of revenue partners. It’s purely based on revenue increases, and they get a percentage of increased revenue each week. Thus, they are motivated to do the best they can.”

Their most lucrative social media attempt so far has been in the club’s “Sexiest Kitten” photo contest on Facebook. When a woman is tagged in a photo taken by the club photographer, the woman in the photo is then in the running to be named the Sexiest Kitten; the most-viewed photo wins. If the winning woman responds to the management at Katwalk, she receives a complimentary bottle of house Champagne on her next visit.

For mid-sized venues, sometimes the day-to-day operations are more than enough to handle in themselves, and the extra task of social media — though easy and rewarding — is just another thing to add to a long to-do list. As long as management supervises the process and ensures the correct actions are being taken online, there’s no reason a venue can’t outsource its social media efforts. Just be sure the message and vibe mimic what one of your own staff members would convey.

It Takes Dedication

For massive, multi-venue nightlife companies like the Las Vegas Nightlife Group, social media is a serious business. Though the group’s Blush Boutique Nightclub may see 1,000 guests a night and the brand-new Encore Beach Club/Surrender Nightclub properties can host upward of 5,000 people, social media helps create a more intimate relationship with its mass audience.

Blush Ultra Lounge

“Social media for us is one of the most important aspects of the business,” says Jonathan Shecter, director of marketing for the Las Vegas Nightlife Group.

How important? There are three full-time employees in the company that do nothing but dedicate their days to networking online, and each of the several hundred employees of the group is required to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. They are required to post on the sites multiple times a day, and grades are given out from A to F based on their online performance.

“This is all about making sure both those sites have as many people talking about our club as possible,” he says.
The office has a giant flatscreen with a free program called Tweetdeck featured. It’s software that monitors Twitter and Facebook, allowing for customization. 

“We watch everyone, not only our staff but also everyone who mentions our venue on those sites,” he continues. “We can see who in the world is talking about us and if our staff is doing their job.”

Schecter realizes one of the biggest values of social media is the networking aspect — people are going online to make plans, meet up and find things to do. “There’s the age-old question of ‘What are you doing tonight?” Shecter offers. “Nightclub and bar owners need to realize that today guests search for that answer on social media sites.” NCB

Texting PhoneHit Me Up on Text

This new generation of drinkers has very strong thumbs, constantly hovering over their phones and seemingly always texting. As a bar owner, one of the easiest ways to pull these technologically savvy bar-goers into your venue is reaching them by text. But not every operator can easily fit constant texting into his or her daily to-do list. Operators can, however, take advantage of services such as Opt It, Textboom, PromoTXT, Club Texting and more, which are specifically designed to handle text marketing for nightlife venues.

Daryl Havrish, general manager of Wicker Park Tavern in Chicago, makes his guests feel in the know by running a Text Club through Opt It. Opt It, and other similar companies, provides a software application in which operators log in to, enter a message and click send; the text goes out to the clients signed up through the bar’s program.

“Opt It assigns us a key word and our text number,” Havrish explains. “We get our clientele to join our Text Club by simply sending a text to our number. They then become a member, and we have incentives for joining, like specials and private events.”

Most importantly, members can opt out of it at any time.

“We don’t want to be a pain,” Havrish says. “We have about 120 people in the Text Club and so I have handed the responsibility off to a staff member now. I think it’s important for management to start programs like these, but then when it takes off, it’s OK to empower your staff to run them.”

And giving it to a seasoned yet younger member of your staff just might help keep things fresh and focused — and help get more business flowing into your bar.

Read All About It!

Even as online marketing takes off, the tried-and-true program involving fliers still remains a great way to send your marketing efforts home with customers. Edward Lafaye, GM of Maracas Mexican Bar and Grill in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., prints fliers monthly for both regular business and special events. He offers a bit of wisdom on the subject.

1. Research a printer for cost and speed: “I use Rush Flyers. I was using another company out of California, but Rush was cheaper and faster. If I’m printing for my Florida location, I can practically get them the next day.”

2. Hire a designer: “I have used one designer for years. You absolutely want to use a professional because nothing is worse than a flier thrown together on Photoshop.”

3. Involve your employees: “I don’t require that they hand [fliers] out, but I’ve found they really get into promoting the bar. The more they hand out, the more people come in and the more money they make.”

4. Offer an incentive to return: “We put codes on the fliers that offer incentives. So if someone brings one in to redeem a free drink, then we can tell where that card was handed out and by which employee.”

1. Rush them:
“I usually plan the fliers for special events up to six weeks out. I put in a call at six weeks to my designer, to give him plenty of time to get us to the print company.”

2. Just throw them on a table:
“We actually had salt and pepper shakers made with a holder for the fliers. By the end of each night, most holders are close to empty. This is great marketing because it means your bar advertisement is headed home with someone.”

iphone 4Do You Need an App for That?

Determining if an application for iPhone or a similar device is something that would benefit your bar or club is a case-by-case decision. If your clientele isn’t exactly tech-savvy, apps might be a waste of time — for now at least.

But for those with app-minded patrons, savvy app development and website production can pay off.

Joe McBane, owner of Tap & Mallet in Rochester, N.Y., had an app made for the iPhone by AT&T and for the Droid phone by Verizon, because, he laughs, “my customer base consists of a lot of computer geeks.”

His local clients love to access his menu and place orders on their phones, so it was a perfect fit for his venue.

To start, McBane met with his Web developer to design the app and submit it to Apple for approval, which usually takes some time. Then, the application was ready for download — for free — by customers. “You can charge, but we give ours away,” he says.

But whether it’s an app you’re developing or just your own website, mobile devices are becoming ever more popular ways for patrons to access the Internet and search out where to party. “When you have a website or any kind of page, make sure it is compatible with all types of browsers and phones. That’s key, and you should jump on your phone and check often to see how long downloading it is taking.”

Suggested Articles

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.

The list has extended to several states and even more counties as COVID-19 cases rise.

The latest data shows U.S. jobless claims at 1.5 million, a small decrease from the previous week.