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How to Start a Bar/Club

It's time to start planning how you're going to get people into your bar to enjoy it. Just like any other aspect of operating your bar, marketing is an ongoing process. Many bar owners think marketing is the most fun and exciting aspect of running a bar. The entrepreneurs we interviewed agreed that advertising in the media didn't bring as much reward for the cost as it does for many other types of businesses. Generating a buzz for your bar will mostly come from word-of-mouth and the special promotions you set up.

"The only cost-effective way to advertise a bar is word-of-mouth," says Bob Johnson of the Beverage Management Institute, in Clearwater, South Carolina. "When you don't have word-of-mouth working for you, you are in serious trouble. It's not necessarily terminal. There are still ways to get some advertising and marketing out there without spending a ton of money. But anytime you reach into your own pocket to buy advertising for a bar, it's not good.

"Word-of-mouth advertising is priceless," he continues. "It means everything is right. Everything is happening. The bar is alive. Your employees love working there. They are talking and saying great things about the place, and that is passed on to your customers. The customers love being there, and they tell other customers. If you can get to that point, it's just priceless."

So what are some ways to generate word-of-mouth buzz? You can get involved in community events and charity functions to gain exposure. You can launch a direct-mail campaign with a newsletter for regular customers, develop a website, and use any other creative marketing techniques you can dream up.

A great way to promote your bar is to create special internal promotions. If you fully developed your bar's concept, your promotions and events will seem so natural you may even take them for granted. R.C. Colvin, a neighborhood bar owner in Niles, Michigan, got into the bar business because he loves to play pool. "We have pool tournaments several times a year that bring in people from all over. We [also] have a couple of hayrides every year, and people get a kick out of them," says Colvin.

Staging Promotional Events

Once you have established what your promotions will be, it's time to start making them happen. After you bar is up and running, you'll have a better idea of what nights need a little boost. Most bars are busy on Friday and Saturday nights, with Thursdays coming in third place. You might decide you need to pump up business on Monday or Tuesday, so pick one day and keep it going until you have established enough regular business to move the promotions to a different day. Of course, you'll still do your holiday promotions, like July 4th, Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo, etc., on the appropriate days.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind when you're working on promotional events.

  • Prepare. Work out a budget. If your promotion continues for more than one day, budget for the entire time you want it to run. A good goal to shoot for is to make a profit that's three times the cost of the promotion.
  • Make a schedule. Design a planning calendar at least eight weeks before the promotion. Depending on the size and magnitude of the promotion, you may want to start advertising it at this point, too. Never advertise an ending date, though, so you can cut it early if it doesn't do as well as you planned or you can extend it if it really takes off.
  • Maintain the energy level. On the day of the promotion, don't stop the action to give away prizes or make announcements. You can turn the music down, but don't turn it off. This will keep the energy level high and consistent. If you absolutely have to turn off the music, never keep it off for more than 10 minutes, or you risk people getting impatient and leaving.
  • Party all night. Schedule your prize giveaways, contests and entertainment to run throughout the night. If you have a grand prize to give away or a finale planned, don't do it until after midnight so your guests stay in your bar as late as possible.

    Promoting your bar can be fun and creative. During a promotion and after it's over, ask your customers and your employees for feedback and critiques. Of course, your sales will give you a lot of the information you're looking for, too.

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Want to start your own  bar / club business?

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