How to Run a Bar: Basics of Bar Games

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

Games are extremely popular pastimes for bar patrons. Most require you to purchase or lease some equipment. When you have games in your bar, you can sponsor tournaments. Just think of all those people penciling in game night at your bar on their weekly calendar.

Traditional live bar games

The first recorded incident of playing pool in an American tavern occurred in 1775. But experts agree that earlier versions appeared in the British colonies, in what’s now the United States, in the 1600s. These early games were based on European games, and the first incident of what most Americans play today, commonly known as “Eight Ball,” occurred in the early 1900s.

Darts made itself a bar mainstay in the early 1900s as well, after the king and queen of England were spotted tossing a few on a tour of a local pub.

Everyone wants to be the best at something, and these games are meant for competition and fun. Many places have contests for the best dart player, pool player, and so forth. Give out prizes and trophies; these help build bigger and better crowds.

Here’s a list of popular bar games, along with suggestions for where to look for more information:

  • Darts: You can choose several dart options, from the traditional, self-healing boards with live (and sharp) darts to the electronic dart machines with blunt tips that can injure only a few people. Ask your liquor rep about getting a dartboard; many of the scotch companies have quality sets. And check out the National Dart Association for information on game play or setting up a league.

  • Pool: Pool (also called billiards) is and will always be one of the number-one games in bars. The American Poolplayers Association is the final word on rules and organizes tournaments. You can choose a pool table from a local game-supply store or one of these companies:

  • Table shuffleboard: Table shuffleboard is similar to its cruise ship cousin in that players push a weight along a game board hoping to slide it to its target. Another great tournament choice. Check out eShuffleboard.com, which includes links for buying a shuffleboard table, and the Table Shuffleboard Association for more information.

  • Pinball: It’s a classic game of skill beloved by many. More important to you, pinball machines are a great source of revenue. Check these sites for a quality machine:

Video and interactive games for your bar

Whether it’s electronic casino games, like blackjack or Texas Hold’em, trivia, play-along sports games, or video games, more patrons are testing their skills and knowledge in bars than ever before. In fact, some bars, like Dave and Buster’s or Great American Midway, built their concept around games for adults. And remember, the more your patrons play, the longer they stay.

If you think you want to offer some of the national, interactive games, check out Buzztime. Buzztime broadcasts live, interactive entertainment through its Buzztime Network to bars and restaurants across the United States. More than 3.5 million players can compete for points, rankings, and prizes.

On average, Buzztime customers spend an additional 30 minutes in bars than those who aren’t playing. Those extra minutes tend to translate into an additional drink and more money in your pocket. Additionally, Buzztime can market to your customers on your behalf. They can be a strong partner for getting (and keeping) butts in your seats. Contact them by visiting their website.

If your patrons would rather play traditional arcade games, you can cater to their needs. Choose free-standing video games with the classics like Pacman, Galaga, Centipede, or Mario Brothers. You can also get an Arcade Legends game with 50 classic games in one machine; then you don’t have to narrow down your choices. Or go with something more au courant like Police Trainer, Golden Tee Golf, or Big Buck Hunter.

You can also choose video-game systems (like Xbox One or PlayStation 4) to hook to your TVs. You can’t set them up to be a pay-to-play system (yet!), but you can provide them as a service to your clients.

If your machines don’t take bills, consider getting a change machine. It will save your bartenders and waitstaff some time and headaches.

As with just about any other equipment for your bar, you can lease game equipment and jukeboxes If you buy it, you own it forever, keeping all the profits. But you’ll pay a high hourly repair rate if the equipment breaks down.

Leasing ensures that the leasing company takes care of all repairs and maintenance, while you split the revenue fifty-fifty. Plus, you can switch leased machines out with other games if your customers get bored.