While keeping regular clientele happy is a surefire way to drive your business, reaching out to the community through on- and off-site events are vital to a bar’s success. Not only does connecting the dots between happenings around town and your venue create excitement for the loyal patrons, it also can draw new guests to your doors, creating incremental sales opportunities. Here's a look at how some bar and restaurant operators are strengthening their community ties and growing their businesses in the process.
Aligning On Site
When you participate in a city event, ideally, people are brought to your establishment at some point to drive home the great atmosphere, service and product you offer.
Atlanta’s STATS is a massive sports-centric venue that hosts large-scale sporting events. But the management team’s creative thinking and participation in other city events allows the bar to draw a more diverse demographic to its doors.
“We are trying to be smart marketers and looking at creating value,” says general manager Shireen Herrington.
For example, STATS offers “seats & eats” packages in conjunction with sporting and concert events at nearby Philips Arena. The “seats & eats” ticket holders can come in before or after the event to dine and drink at STATS. And for the Share Our Strength event, a chef’s tasting benefit raising money to end world hunger, STATS throws a private afterparty for all of the participating chefs with cocktails on the rooftop.
But the bar’s alignment with concerts is perhaps the most creative connection and also the biggest lure for partygoers who might otherwise pass a sports bar by on their way to other venues.
“We put together packages with the concert for specials for ticket holders,” Herrington says. “For the Janet Jackson concert, we had a Slippery Nipple shot special. We have a huge A/V system, so when guests come in, we have old video concert footage on the screen and we blast that artist’s music out the doors. It’s an extension of what they are about to go see, and most people come back after the show.
“It’s important to invest in these things,” she continues. “You think you might be cutting into profits with specials, but if you are drawing in people you might not have before — Britney [Spears] fans in a sports bar, for example — then you are doing something right.”
Off Site Participation
Nearby, the Village Tavern in Alpharetta, Ga., reaps the benefits of being active in the local community. “My yearly budget for participating in local events is as much as I can afford,” says general manager Drew Grant. “If there is an event that is going to benefit the community and get us name recognition, then I will always find a way to get involved.”
With the tavern located in a community just beyond the hustle of Atlanta, Grant realizes the value of being a neighborhood business and pairs with charity drives, teacher appreciation days and events like Taste of Alpharetta.
This year will mark the fifth time Drew and his team has set up an offsite booth at Taste of Alpharetta, an event that draws 60,000 attendees to sample food prepared street-side from the menus of 60 local venues.
Grant shares a few pointers for showcasing food at an off-site event.
- Know How to Get Involved
“The best way is through building relationships with local business owners in the community. I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and while it’s tough for me to make the meetings every time, I will invite members in to eat and speak to them over e-mail as well. If you are a newer business owner and you are looking to become a top choice for city events, then you need to be active.”
- Have a Pre-Game Plan
“We put up posters and banners in-house, and for Taste of Alpharetta, we will take an ad out in a local paper two weeks before and another immediately after thanking everyone for coming out. We are on the list now for that event, but I told them to count on us every year. The organizers send us a reminder and we pay a fee for our tent space. It’s a mutual arrangement, and now we get a prime spot because we are always there. Also, have your logo PDF in high resolution available so that when the Chamber runs its ads, your logo is always included.
“On the day of the event, we take all of our own [product and equipment] there to cook. We have purchased some equipment like the portable holding ovens and portable burners that we keep in storage. The signage I keep in my garage at home, and we use the same big one every year, refreshed by smaller, new signage.”
- Take the Right Staff Members
“Don’t go with tenure; that doesn’t equal greatness. I choose the ones that are the best equipped to execute. These are the staff members getting the best compliments in the restaurant, and I also try and involve anyone who really wants to be involved. They do get paid for doing the event, and we print up t-shirts for them. I put my best staff members, the ones who really know how to relate to a crowd, out front to chat with people in line and get the crowd excited. If we get finished early, we all go out for drinks and dinner, my compliments.”
- Expect the Unexpected
“Be prepared for anything. We took a fire extinguisher the first year, and after a few hours of the grill going, the tent actually started to melt. We were smart to have it on hand. You also have to have extras like an extra burner, extra propane, extra food – the worst thing is to not execute something like this well.”
- Follow Up
“A lot of it is very trackable. We gave out free appetizer cards with 'T-A' on them, which stands for Taste of Alpharetta. Those are entered in our computer when they are turned in. Even if you can’t track them on computer, it’s easy to do it on paper.”
Mix It Up
Renowned for its wine list, Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colo., participates in the annual Taste of Vail event to showcase its handcrafted cocktails.
Owners Rick Colomitz and Kelly Liken involve both the Kelly Liken venue and its newer sister property, Rick & Kelly’s American Bistro in Edwards, Colo., in this event every year.
“Restaurant Kelly Liken will be 5 years old at end of May,” Colomitz says, “and it’s a 65-seat fine dining establishment with a wine program [that] has 70 by the glass and half glass. Taste of Vail is a great way for the public to meet our people [who] are normally in the back of the house, and it’s also a means of more exposure for our handcrafted, artisan cocktails.”
Each year, Liken enters the Bar Chefs’ Mix Off Competition, in which bartenders use fresh, high-quality ingredients to create delicious and visually compelling cocktails. For the last three, the restaurant has won the People’s Choice award.
“It’s great exposure and a good pride source for the restaurant,” explains Colomitz. “People can experience the seasonal ingredients we use in the kitchen and the fact that they also go into our cocktails.”
Restaurant Kelly Liken’s Wascally Wabbit – 2008 People's Choice Winner, Taste of Vail
- 1 ounce vodka
- 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
- 5 to 8 tarragon leaves
- 2 ounces carrot ginger juice*
- Splash fresh lemon juice
- Muddle tarragon with spirits, add carrot ginger juice and lemon juice. Toss with ice, serve in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with top with a baby carrot.
- *2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 cups orange juice
In a blender, add carrots, ginger and enough water to cover. Blend and strain. Add orange juice.