Seeking out and catering to the right demographic can prove challenging for bar owners who want to capture an audience without losing out on the bottom line. But savvy owners know that understanding who their patrons are and what they want is a major reason for long-term success.
Although there are a limitless number of people out there searching for a watering hole to call their own, it takes more than looking at what businesses surround the establishment to find and target a bar’s ideal guest.
Smart bar owners look beyond the obvious and understand the bar's story, says Ted Wright, owner of Fizz Corp, a word of mouth marketing company. “More importantly for a bar owner, is not to say who is my demographic but who is it that I want to attract to my bar,” he says. “What I find interesting about bars is they have split the demographic into some of the smallest slices that exist.”
Morgan Margolis, CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment, which owns concert houses and bar spots including Bow and Truss, and The Federal Bar in North Hollywood, Calif., says it’s all about the demographics for his company. “We are always really specific about what areas we’re going into and what demographic we’re going to find,” he says. “We try to look at what the economy is in an area, the whole scope of the community that we’re moving into, etc.”
Finding An Identity
In order to find your identity as an establishment you need to understand that you can’t always be something for everyone. “You can only be one thing to some people,” Wright explains. For example, he says, if a bar is for college students, then that bar will always be a bar for college students. “That same demographic will still go there and will do the same thing - all bar owners need to pay attention to this” when looking at the demographic they wish to attract.
Bar owners are, however, in a unique position to find a niche and exploit it, says Wright. But to do this successfully, owners have to do it authentically. “People will pay for authentic, and people are attracted to authenticity,” Wright adds.
People are also attracted to hip neighborhoods, according to Margolis. For his bars and restaurants in the Los Angeles market, the area he looks for are ones that aren’t saturated and on the upswing. The Federal Bar, for example, is near studios, an art institute, the theater and other professional buildings, which has helped target diverse crowds looking for an overall experience.
“The great thing about The Federal is it’s a mixed-use entertainment complex” he explains. The two-story venue has 20 craft beers, a dance club, an upstairs that welcomes weddings and high-end movie premieres and a downstairs with a more neighborhood feel.
Margolis sees potential in niche bars, but he’s casting his net a little wider at his various establishments. “If you become a biker bar, that’s it. You’re the biker bar” Margolis says. “Some bars are built specifically for that, and do very well, but the cool thing about our venues is that we’re able to pull the diverse local crowd. “We’re a weird mix.” Though, there is always a balance when it comes to attracting the right patrons. In a way, the bar is “everything to everybody,” he says but it is carefully designed in its different aspects to cater to the local targeted demographic.
Bars, in fact, have a better chance of longevity once they find their niche, but it’s nightclubs who have to evolve every few years or so. The dynamic of a nightclub is different, according to Wright, who says those venues attract people more interested in meeting other people than experiencing a culture.
Margolis says that all bars generally seek out the coveted mid-20 to 30-year-old crowds because they’re going out more. But for the older, more family-oriented demographic, the bar or restaurant they go to “becomes a destination—it’s a rare night out,” he says. An establishment, he added, can make sure to cater to both through days, times and promotions.
Although bar owners may feel encumbered to secure patrons from all different ilk, it doesn’t necessarily lead to success. “It’s about knowing your demographic and catering to your demographic,” Wright reiterates. “You have to know them.”
Once owners know who they want to target, those patrons will “find you,” Wright says. “If you’re going to be something, be something big. Average doesn’t get paid attention to,” he says. “You have to be interesting, relevant and authentic.”
But the point is, Margolis explains, “you better know what you’re doing before you get into it because you can lose money.” People who want to cynically jump on something to make money don’t last over the long term, adds Wright. As for those potential bar owners who see a trend and want to grasp it for money-making purposes, Wright discourages this behavior.