The Fourth of July has come and gone, and the summer months will begin to fade into fall, the holiday season also maintains its momentum. Throwing one-off holiday promotions, however, can present problems. You have to be consistent with your promotion each year, but you have to differentiate your establishment from the competition, who is also hoping to capitalize on the same holiday. A good owner won’t allow for a promotion to become stagnant. A complacent staff and even a tired promotion can make a profitable holiday promotion a bust. To prevent your bar from hitting a slump when it comes to holiday promos, here are some indispensable hints to help avoid a sluggish holiday:
1. Don’t let challenges stop you. For summer holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, there are usually designated weekends that signify that it’s time to party. This summer presented some challenged with July 4 falling on a Wednesday. “The biggest challenge is when a holiday doesn’t fall particularly in the best time as far as bars are concerned,” says Ali Pouladin, general manager of Sidebar in San Diego. “It’s been a while since we’ve had to deal with something this unique,” he added.
At The Pony in Chicago, Owner Mark Domitrovich said that having the Fourth of July on a Wednesday presented some challenges, which is why The Pony threw a July 3 party to attract all those guests who had July 4 off. “It’s definitely a challenge. Wednesday’s not a good day,” he says. “Some people take the weekend off,” and some people will only take a few days, he says. “It’s a mixed bag. It’s definitely a challenge.” That means doing things outside the box, like The Pony’s hot-dog eating contest. For holidays that fall on unusual days on the calendar, it’s important to “have something to draw people in,” he says. Because the Fourth of July is on a weekday, Domitrovich said the bar would likely see a better than usual Wednesday, ultimately “pulling a big weekend night out of the day.”
2. Generic ideas won’t work. It may seem trite, but it’s still true. At The Pony, Domitrovich and his team threw out a bunch of ideas and worked on the best ones after regrouping. “You have to tailor it to whatever holiday it is so it makes sense,” he says. “It’s not just like any other weekend. There’s a holiday and you have to try to build on it.” He says bar owners need to do something that resonates for the guests, so they’d rather go to your bar than host a party in their backyard. “Like I said, you’re trying to throw a party and seem more fun than your friend’s backyard,” he reminds.
3. Think about your competition. Being thoughtful about your competition and know what they’re doing. This will help you work through your own holiday plans. Certainly having a signature drink and specials are always enticing, but if your competitor down the street is thinking outside the box, then he or she will steal those patrons from your bar stools. Something as small as a “Best Uncle Sam” costume for a national holiday might draw in those extra guests you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Also think about hosting your holiday party on a special night. At Sidebar, for a big holiday such as Halloween, they host the industry Halloween party on the Wednesday before Halloween. “We always do an industry party coming up with it,” meaning the nightclub double-dips on the holiday—getting multiple nights and enjoyment from one holiday.
4. Promote smartly. Holiday weekends can present some uncertainty. People are going out of town for long weekends, but also new guests will be around visiting. “There’s definitely a risk … but the pros outweigh the cons,” explains Pouladin. “It’s a little risky. You have a certain budget you set aside,” and you have to make that amount back on entertainment, he says. For big summer holiday promotions, Pouladin and his team will go out on the San Diego beach with ice-cream carts and hand out flyers. “We have a good-looking, charismatic staff that promote things well,” he explains, adding this helps pick up new business.
5. Make it fun. Pouladin says that Sidebar already has a track record of having a fun Wednesday industry night, as well as raucous weekend parties. “We know our track record and what we’re capable of doing,” he says. So holidays, though they present some challenges, ultimately enhance the evening’s party. These are national holidays—Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day—and “people love to party,” Pouladin says, on all those holiday weekends.