Every sports bar experiences lulls, slow seasons, and dead nights. When your business model depends on basketball fans packing your bar, naturally your sales will be leaner on basketball-free nights. How do you occupy the building from July to October? How do football bars fill the till from Tuesday to Friday?
While live sports will always dominate the Nielsen ratings, there are a few other programs that can hang with them. Reality television and many premium dramas have proven to be DVR-proof in an age where streaming and watching on one’s own time dominate viewing habits. The best part about these shows, as it pertains to us in the restaurant industry, is how well they lend themselves to communal watching.
There are people out there who take their favorite shows as seriously as sports fans take their games. Take a look at your clientele; odds are you’ll see just as many of them wearing shirts featuring Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead as you do wearing shirts of their favorite teams. Thrones, in particular, boasts Nielsen ratings that surpass the Stanley Cup Finals and rival the World Series.
Reality shows like The Voice, The Bachelor, and So You Think You Can Dance share a great deal of characteristics with professional sports. The big personalities, live competition, and the eliminations make every episode akin to a playoff game in a major sports league. A dedicated crowd will scream and complain about their favorite contestant heading home just as much as an egregious penalty flag in a tight game.
Building Your Base
To cultivate this crowd, you first need to decide which show or shows will bring the most passionate fans to your establishment without overshadowing your primary revenue drivers. You must keep your non-sports viewing parties on a regular schedule, and out of conflict with your busy sports nights.
Once you’ve identified the times you want to bolster, it’s a matter of deciding which shows will benefit you the most. Use your regular customers as a source of information in this matter. Though you may be reaching out to entirely new guests with this endeavor, some of your usual suspects will undoubtedly want to check it out as well. Learning what shows are popular among your target customers and their friends not only points you in the right direction, but also jump starts your marketing efforts.
Word of mouth campaigning can build a customer base organically and effectively. When your guests have a connection, even a faint one, it builds a sense of community within the restaurant. As weeks pass, your crowd builds larger and those connections grow stronger. The energy and excitement will get amplified, making the experience more memorable for all. As word circulates, new guests will flock to see what the buzz is about.
Utilizing Your Menus to Complete the Experience
Everybody loves a special, and when you incorporate the characters and themes of TV shows, you get a pretty broad range of inspiration to draw from. Seemingly every show has its own cookbook now, full of recipes for royal feasts or post-apocalyptic survival. Now, we’re not suggesting you take to the woods and hunt wild boar to roast on an open spit, but something as simple as using a clever reference to rename your pulled pork sandwich makes it more intriguing.
If you decide to create new dishes for these special events, make sure you can repurpose any unsold ingredients into your regular menu. While roasted squab and oxtail stews may please the Westerosi crowd, if you don’t have another vehicle to utilize the proteins, you may be stuck with a poison pill in your food cost.
For contest shows, make your own survival of the fittest style cocktail tournament. Every week, have your guests vote one of the drinks off until only the most popular remains at the end of the season. Make it a mainstay on your permanent drink list so that your guests actually feel a sense of pride and ownership in the competition.
Pre, During, and Post
Ideally, you want your guests to stay in the building longer than the hour or so their show is on, so think of ways to maximize their stay. Door prizes for costumed guests, pre-show happy hours, and appetizer specials are just a few ways you can get them in early and settled before air time.
Obviously you’ll want to make sure your TVs and audio are ready to go before the opening credits. Just as you don’t want to be changing channels during kickoff on Sunday afternoon, the same is true for non-sporting events.
Many programs now feature after-shows with panels discussing the episode; if you have the time and space, you can do the same in house. Encourage your guests to stick around and debate what just happened.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to treat the event’s guests just like your major sports fans. Hospitality doesn’t change based on who’s filling the seats. You’ll find their loyalty stays with you just the same.