Take the Blinders Off

We spend a lot of time here at Questex talking about the Nightclub & Bar Show and the VIBE Experience. Each is a unique event, serving a unique audience with a unique format. What’s universal, however, is that both events are committed to growing the on-premise beverage business in a steady, sustainable and responsible manner.

In my current role, I have the advantage of working with both chains and independents, along with restaurant, bar and nightclub operators, which gives me an interesting perspective on the drinks business. One thing that constantly amazes me are the blinders which beverage pros in each segment sometimes wear. They have the mentality that they only have to worry about competing with other concepts or venues in their segment, and can only learn (or steal ideas) from those same concepts or venues. So not true.

As chain restaurant operators, you compete with anyone in your market area also selling food and drink. Yes, we can drill down into the minutiae of your target demographics, day parts and price points, but if this economic downturn has taught us anything, it’s that consumers will go to the place that fits their needs, wants and wallets at the given moment, and that criteria is constantly in flux. To stay on their hot list, you need to be nimble, responsive and relevant. The same approaches will get you the same results, and with the consumer and economy changing so quickly, is that a good formula?

Enough pontificating from me. My point is, those who seek success will take off their blinders, put the periscope up or whatever other metaphor you want to use, and look around to see what other operators in other segments are doing. To that end, here are some things I’ve learned lately from nightclubs that you might find valuable:

•    The top nightclub operators are the consummate loyalty marketers. They invest hard dollars in software, training and services to acquire, get to know, engage and retain their top-spending guests. They know when the guest’s birthday is, what type of bubbly they prefer and which booth is their favorite to view the dance floor. Then they make sure they deliver on all those fronts, all the time, which keeps the top-spenders coming back. Oh, and they personally call that valued guest the day after their visit to see if their experience was satisfying and how they might better serve them in the future.
•    Some nightclubs employ one or two staffers full time solely to work on social media marketing, dialoging with fans and friends and constantly expanding the club’s universe of clients.

And from bars:
•    Training is important, but education rules for some bar operators. Several savvy owner/operators plan to close their establishments during the third week in July to allow their staffs to attend Tales of the Cocktail; others will shutter their places for one week in March to get the gang to the Nightclub & Bar Show (not a shameless plug; it’s really the truth!). This might sound like a boondoggle, but we’re finding that more and more of the bartenders are attending to expand their knowledge and skills. These owners have hired passionate drink pros and they do everything they can to keep that passion ignited, even if it means closing doors for a few days. The staff undoubtedly returns from these trips all fired up, not to mention increasingly loyal to their employers.

Now, not everyone can shutter their restaurants and hop a plane with the entire staff to attend an industry event or hire folks full time to tweet all day, but there may be some aspects of such initiatives that can be applied to your model. Look around at the places you visit as a guest, read the trade journals, hit the websites and scour the Internet for ideas from other segments. What’s old hat to one type of operator may yield new revenue for another. So do a self-check and if you’re wearing blinders, take them off and then go get some new dollars for yourself.

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