There’s a reason why seemingly every classic TV show from the 1980s has been rebooted in recent years. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Whatever it is that forces us to see the past through rose-colored glasses, its effect is undeniable. And no reminiscence is stronger than that of those yearning for their college years. When adults get a chance to reunite and recreate their early 20s it can represent a windfall to your bottom line.
How, then, do you get alumni groups in the door? The key is two-fold: connect with college alumni groups and host events – such as college sports “viewing parties” — for those groups.
Step #1: Connecting with Alumni Groups
A proactive marketing and event planning manager is your point-person for this operation. They must be able to use their social media skills and networking contacts to find alumni groups interested in partnering with your restaurant. Fortunately, there are scores of active alumni associations on Facebook, making it an easy place to start. You can also find official alumni group contact info on most college websites, too.
Not only should you be reaching out to the colleges and universities in your city, but also to groups of graduates based in your city, regardless of their alma mater’s location. Chicago, for example, has a number of alumni groups from colleges around the country: Miami, Syracuse, and Texas Tech, just to name a few. Allowing them to get a taste of their glory days without having to travel across the country is a practical alternative.
Step #2: Throw Special Events for Alumni Groups
Once your marketing team delivers the groups to you, you’ll need to figure out what sort of events will attract these groups. We recommend working with the alumni groups to see what would best pique their members’ interest, but viewing parties of the group’s alma mater teams are a solid go-to.
Viewing parties (aka “watch parties”) are where you dedicate your bar’s TVs to showing the alumni group’s alma mater’s game. If it’s a Boston University alumni group, you’ll probably be showing BU Hockey; if it’s University of Texas, you’ll host Longhorns Football games. For many other colleges, you can probably pick from a few sports during the year that are big. But viewing parties are as simple as showing the games and making sure the team(s)’ fans know about.
But if you’re looking to truly make it a great viewing experience, there are several easy, cost-efficient ways to ensure the events are successful.
Start with colors. It sounds so simple, but it offers such an instantly-recognizable touch of personalization. Whether it be in the form of linens or even just a bunting, the right colors can trigger fond memories the moment an alumnus sees them paired together.
We frequently hosted social hours for a group from the University of Michigan at a restaurant I ran, so it made sense for us to invest in some blue and maize tablecloths and napkins, but renting is also an option.
Many schools have published style guides with their official colors on their websites for easy reference. Teamcolorcodes.com is also a handy resource that lists, you guessed it, color codes in Hex, RGB, CMYK, and Pantone format. This can help you maintain uniformity throughout promotional materials and physical assets.
Step #3: Kill It in the Kitchen
The kitchen, as always, is one of the greatest tools at your disposal. So many of our memories of college are centered around food. With so many regional specialties, it’s likely that there are more than a few items associated with the college you’re catering to. Duke alumni will undoubtedly appreciate some Carolina Pulled Pork, just like a group from Louisiana State might crave some Oyster Po’ Boys.
If you have your own knowledge and experiences with the area your group is from, great. It will help you present a menu that screams “post-finals celebration.” If not, a little back and forth with your group contact is great. They have a wealth of information and will likely relish the opportunity to put their own touches on the party.
Of course, should you find yourself in a rut with the menu, (what do they eat at Yale anyway?) nothing says college like pizza. A pizza display brings back memories of hacky sack in the quad while a guy plays “Wonderwall” on acoustic guitar while scaling things up a notch in terms of class.
Same goes for chicken wings. Not only are they always a great menu centerpiece for college football and basketball viewing parties, but you can easily give wings specialty flavors based on the location of the school. Does the alumni group of an “official flavor”? If not, Frank’s RedHot has a great wing’s recipe list to get you going. Create a wing made for the alumni group that sticks around for every event you host for them, but don’t forget about the team’s opponent, too, for continual variety.
Make sure to give your drink menu some thought, too. You can create some alumni group-centric cocktails designed specifically for the games, but you should also look into having a list of great chicken wing-beer pairings at the ready, too.
Step #4: Don’t Forget About Audio
In the correct setting — and with moderation — music is another way to tailor an experience to a group. Knowing which bands were huge with the college crowd at the time can take a bit of research or communication with alumni, but the results are worth it. Have you ever seen a group of Boston University alumni from the ‘90s hear Letters to Cleo again after 20 years?
There are a plethora of sites dedicated to helping you find what songs were popular at any given time. This can help you craft a playlist to fit your groups’ tastes. If you’re throwing a viewing party, however, you’ll probably want to stay clear of playlists with a few exceptions.
The topic of fight songs must be addressed. I would avoid them unless your event is centered around a college sports. In that case, however, you should have it queued up at all times.
When hosting weekly Ohio State watch parties, we would have the “Buckeye Battle Cry” ready to play after every touchdown. Our guests would follow in suit with a rowdy “O-H-I-O” chant that often sent them flocking to the bar for another round soon after. Of course, this is not a perfect fit for every venue, but if it matches the feel of your bar it’s a surefire hit.
Above all else, you should ensure that your lines of communication with the event organizer are always open. When given the opportunity to obtain a large number of new guests, you want to remind them that their needs are always placed before yours. Hospitality and attention to detail are hallmarks of our business and will help you retain these groups, and their individual members for the long term.