5 Tips for Out-of-the-Box Promos

The fear of failure can often hold people back from achieving their goals. For nightclub and bar owners seeking to create revenue-generating promotions, the fear of not doing something can be detrimental to their business. However, promotions, above all, are meant to be fun.

Loren Dunsworth, owner of Lola’s in West Hollywood, California, has a gregarious free-wheeling attitude when it comes to implementing promotions at her 17-year-old bar. The Apple-tini, Dunsworth said, was created at Lola’s. The simple drink of Dekuyper Apple Pucker and Ketel One vodka put the bar on the map. Dekuyper even ran an ad saying Lola’s invented the Apple-tini. Dunsworth said they mixed the ingredients together, added a Granny Smith apple slice as a garnish and that was that.

If it’s kitschy, charitable or ground-breaking, it just might be the very thing that makes you stand out. The following ideas can provide the path for your establishment to get there.

1. Don’t lose your identity. With any business, you have to stay true to yourself if you want that business to continue. “We do Martinis and comforting things,” Dunsworth said, but sometimes businesses lose their identity. When the recession hit in 2008, “everyone was scrambling and was trying to be everything to everyone,” she says. “You do lose your identity. You get lost in a weird spot,” she said. “People sense when you’re trying too hard, and it doesn’t work.”

2. The best promotions are usually ones that are creative. The fun, kitschy promotions are the ones that get someone’s attention. For example, Lola’s St. Patrick’s Day event had the non-Irish establishment competing with Irish restaurants and bars. Although Lola’s was offering a traditional Irish breakfast, Dunsworth posited something outside the box. “I know Lucky Charms aren’t really Irish, but they’re fun, and it’s what America knows.” So, she came up with a fun breakfast Martini that had Lucky Charms in it. “Everyone latched onto this Martini, and it tasted really good. We ended up doing a whole list of cereal based Martinis—Cocoa Puffs and Froot Loops.”

3. Always brainstorm. “I’m coming up with ideas all the time. I’m thinking about it all the time,” explains Dunsworth. But not everyone is good at coming up with promotions. “It is an art form,” she adds. One idea that worked out for Lola’s was the addition of its Martini menu. Before becoming famous for its Martinis, there were doubts about creating a menu with non-traditional drinks. “We started out with 30 drinks, and we made everything a Martini,” which started a craze, she said. Everyone’s fighting for the same dollar and there’s not a lot to go around, Dunsworth says. Her advice: “Keep your thinking cap on and try to come up with things for Halloween, Thanksgiving and events that are coming up. And always keep that in the back of your mind and keep the creativity going. Businesses that do that will thrive and survive.”

4. Promotions are about the long-term pay off. If a promotion doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. “Fade it out quickly,” Dunsworth advises. “Promotions aren't necessarily about the short term and you’re not always going to make a lot of money on the items promoted”. Your promotions should be about making money long term. Its why, she says, Groupon was merely a faze and now fading away. The Lucky Charm Martini and breakfast Martinis are long-term investments, she says. “They put us on the map for brunch.”

5. Don’t be a copycat. Don’t mimic, she says, even if it is seen as the highest form of flattery. “If you see someone doing well with a promotion, and you try to jump on board, it’s not a good thing, and it waters down the pool. That’s not conducive to a good promotion.” Also, she says, never turn a promotion into a political statement unless it’s innocuous. During the holiday season, Lola’s markets three Martinis that each support three different charities. All the proceeds from sales of the drink go to the respective charity that is connected to the cocktail. “It’s a safe political statement,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”


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