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How to Run a Bar: Basics of Drink and Food Specials

People like to get a bargain. Sometimes the lure of the bargain helps them decide to visit your bar rather than someone else’s. Most bars try specials of some sort until they find something that works for them.

Cheap food and liquor brings people in the door. Period. But you always have to consider who it’s bringing in and how they’ll behave after they sit down at your bar and fill up on cheap liquor.

If your drinks are too cheap, it can encourage overconsumption and intoxication, both of which can be a headache in terms of liability and the PITA (Pain In The Abdomen) factor. Consider the consequences before you drop your drink prices.

How to set up your bar’s happy hour

Happy hours are designed to bring customers into your bar early, let them relax after traditional working hours (9 a.m.–5 p.m.), and, hopefully, get them to stick around. Half-price cocktails, special beer prices, and food are the common fare. Serve appetizer-type foods — items that are small but good quality.

Don’t have tasteless fried food that just fills up chafing dishes; have items that will make you look great, items that people will talk about. Consult with your chef — don’t just offer chips and dips.

Have something special food-wise that your patrons can’t get anywhere else. Work with your food vendors to find unique, easy-to-prepare appetizers that you can restock easily.

If the food is supposed to be hot, keep it hot. If it’s cold, keep it cold. A bad happy hour will hurt, not help, your business. If you’re going to do it, do it great.

Why to offer drink nights

Some bar owners choose to discount certain drinks on certain nights. You can focus on a special price or a special category of drinks for a special night.

Thursday night seems to be a popular night for these specials, but remember that you’re competing with other bars looking for the same drinking dollars.

Here are a few successful drink-night ideas:

  • $2 pints

  • $2 domestic bottled beer

  • $3 well drinks

  • Martini specials

  • Margarita specials

Please, never do all-you-can-drink nights. You won’t make money, and more importantly, you encourage overconsumption and all the legal problems that go along with it.

How to cater to certain groups in your bar

Depending on your location, you may want to run early-week or early-evening specials for certain groups. Here are a few ideas for doling out special group privileges:

  • College night: Discount with a student ID.

  • Greek night: Discounts for fraternity and sorority members.

  • Ladies night: Ladies get half-priced drinks (and food). Men and women both come — chicks to get the drinks, dudes to get the chicks. This promo is good for your really slow night, maybe Tuesdays.

    Ladies Nights have been banned in some areas due to gender discrimination. Some bars get around it by offering the discounts to people wearing skirts or lipstick.

  • Amateur sports teams: Players in uniform after their game get a discount.

  • Public servants: Give a nod to police officers, soldiers, firemen, and EMTs.

  • Restaurant employees: Consider running late-night specials for these night owls.

  • After the movie: Moviegoers can bring in their stub from the show for a free dessert.

  • Sports fans: Fans can bring in a ticket before or after that day’s game for a 10 percent discount.

Cater your specials to your area and clientele. This list is only the beginning.

How to promote specific dishes

You can make every day a banquet. If you serve meals in your bar, offer certain meals only on certain days at a lower-than-average price.

Make Monday Lobster Night, Tuesday All-the-Corned-Beef-You-Can-Eat Night, Wednesday All-the-Pasta-You Can-Eat Night, Thursday Thanksgiving Night with turkey and all the trimmings, or Friday Fish-Fry Night. You can do just about anything you want (Mexican or Chinese nights, farmers’ market nights, potluck nights), but be consistent.

Make sure everyone knows what you serve when, and they’ll pass the word. As always, make these meals great, or you’re wasting your time and money. Most bars don’t run specials on the weekends because bars are typically busy during those times.

If you’ve got a hook, use it: the best burger in town, the biggest burger, the only Buffalo burger, the largest pizza. Big, best, and any words that tell your customers how unique your meals are (in a good way, of course) are the key words.

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