Pop Quiz, Hot Shot! Is a Pub Quiz Your Next Moneymaker?

Image source: Geeks Who Drink

If you’re an operator looking for a promotion that can transform a slow day into a profitable one, you may want to consider hosting a weekly pub quiz. The types of customers who gravitate towards pub quizzes tend to be fiercely loyal to the venues that provide them with their favorite bar promotion, so pull this sort of event off and you’ll have repeat customers you can count on to show up week after week. For the cost of a prize or two and the quizmaster’s compensation you can have your own quiz night (or afternoons and nights) up and running.

We’ve been checking out a few local pub quizzes, one hosted by a pizza restaurant and one hosted by a craft brewery. What stuck with us, besides our immediate compulsion to win, was not only how fun it is to answer questions spanning seemingly innumerable categories while enjoying a cocktail or beer, but how simple the promotion appeared to be. Clearly the majority of the teams (we have learned that a maximum of 6 people should be on one team) are repeat customers, and they aren’t shy about ordering food, cocktails, wine and beer. During the quiz rounds all of the focus is definitely on listening to and answering questions, but the time before the quizzes start, in between rounds, and after the games are over are all about socializing, getting to know the competition, and imbibing. Be consistent and deliver your pub quiz(zes) on the same day(s) at the same time(s) and you’ll be sitting pretty, no question (heh).

So impressed were we by the simplicity pub quizzes, we felt we needed to speak with a quizmaster to get the inside scoop on how to host these events properly. Steve Fernandez, the Tenaya Creek Brewery Pub Quiz host and a Geeks Who Drink quizmaster located in Las Vegas, answered all of our questions, a departure from his normal role.

How did you get started hosting pub quizzes?

The Tenaya Creek Pub Quiz has been running since the summer of 2013. Born out of a conversation between bartender Mia and another regular, how I became involved is attributed to sheer chance: I was sitting nearby.

I had been a regular at the Creek for about Two years. Initially, my ears perked up at the quiz idea because I knew I had all the equipment to run it. Never did I think I would actually be the one hosting it. I had not even played a pub quiz before, so right away I was dismissing any idea of myself pulling the duty. Mia and I set the date to try it out and now I had to learn how to write a quiz.

The first show was rough. I started it off with about 5 minutes of stand-up on a Saturday afternoon.  [It was] a scattershot quiz with no themes to speak of but instead a compilation of questions that happened to be in my head when I wrote it. By the end though we knew there was something there. The day and time was not right, [but] we were onto something.

How difficult was it to get bars to agree to allow a pub quiz inside their venue?

If the decision maker for a bar has never seen a quiz in action, then the perception of a stuffy, boring quiz can be tough to overcome. One bar manager told me once that with the food and drink that was sold every week during the quiz, I was worth $50k a year to him. They wanted a quiz at all their locations.

In Vegas, the first pushback from gaming bars is that it will annoy gamblers. But then they do karaoke… I started having people who were coming to gamble and listen to the quiz, not play. That’s a hell of a compliment.

How many pub quizzes do you host in a week?

Two to four. I do private events and fill in spots from time to time.

Are you actively seeking to host more pub quizzes each week?

I’m always on the hunt for a new venue.

Do you plan themed quizzes?

I have hosted multiple themed quizzes. Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Toga Party, Harry Potter, Bob’s Burgers, Doctor Who, Marvel, and The Big Lebowski, to name a few. The most fun part has been coming up with a costume. I now can do, like, 8 different costumes in a Halloween night.

Do you plan and execute special pub quiz events? For instance, holidays, championships, etc.

At Tenaya Creek it’s all me.  I try to follow trends and make the quiz feel fresh with the news of the week or the season of the day.

I work for another quiz company called Geeks Who Drink that hires me out for bars and private events (birthdays, corporate events, etc.). They do a lot of those themed quizzes I mentioned that are very challenging to the player. When your team wins a Geeks Who Drink themed quiz, you earned every bit of it.

How many rounds is the average pub quiz?

I do four rounds with ten questions each. There are many approaches to the format of a quiz night, but universally they go no longer than two hours.

How long does it take you to plan a pub quiz?

I can spend 20 to 30 hours a week writing my quiz. Some weeks come faster than others. In my quiz I have a first round on current events. That gets pieced together as the week progresses and a question strikes me. If it is the night before the quiz and I have 7 or 8 questions written for round one then I’m in good shape.

In the first year of the quiz I did themed rounds almost always on movies. There was a week where I probably watched Dirty Dancing 7 times looking for questions to be asked.

Some regularly scheduled pub quizzes require participants to visit a social media page or website to find the answer to a bonus question. Do any of your quizzes require participants to do so?

I did do that in the beginning to hopefully drive followers. With feedback I’ve learned that most just want to know when it’s happening.

How difficult is it for a venue to set up a pub quiz?

It is a commitment of time. It takes about 16 weeks for a quiz to take hold. The first couple weeks are usually sparse with players because no one knows you’re doing the dang thing! What I would have done differently with the Tenaya quiz was give it a month of promotion, some time to steep, before just jumping into the night and expecting players to know it was happening.

What equipment is required for a pub quiz?

  1. Entertaining host
  2. Microphone
  3. Mixer/cables (Behringer XENYX502 5-Channel Mixer - love it)

Most bars have a place to patch into their audio system. A good powered speaker to plug into otherwise.

What are some things you wish venue operators knew about pub quizzes that would make your job easier?

If you are not telling your customers about the quiz, then how will they know to show up? I once had a bar manager make a snarky comment on the turnout for a quiz. When you looked at their social media efforts, there was nothing to be found about the quiz night. In the whole of the bar, they had one poster up on the door as you left.

How do you deal with people who shout out answers?

There are stages to that:

  • Make sure it is in the rules: No shouting answers.
  • Somewhat politely remind everyone no shouting of answers. Remind them if they want to play, grab an answer packet!
  • Still happening? Now I get snarky and specific. Hey guy at the bar in the yellow hat: Stop.

It usually stops at point 2, and if it doesn’t, usually the other quizzers will start shushing the person. Then they get it.

How do you handle cheaters?

When I have caught a team cheating, it is usually with their phone.  The quizzers police themselves most of the time. When someone whispers in my ear that shenanigans are going on, I’ll make a general announcement that a team has been spotted cheating. Hopefully that stops it there. I once walked out to the suspected team and caught them red-handed with phones out looking things up. I didn’t say anything, but scored the sheet zero. Anytime I have had to do that, it has been rare, but I’ve never had the team come to complain about it. They know.

How do you handle disputes over answers to questions?

Part of the quiz-writing process is to double- and triple-check the questions so that doesn’t happen. But when it does, I hear them out and check it again. Mistakes can be made and I am reasonable about it.

And there you have it. Yes, it will take some time for your pub quiz to gain traction. You’ll have to understand that, make the time commitment, and utilize multiple marketing avenues to get the word out. The return on investment, however, can truly make it all worthwhile.


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