So, you've found your location and secured the lease for your new bar. Or maybe you’ve decided a rebrand or relaunch is in order. Either way, you seem to be firing on all cylinders. Your concept? Fully realized. The build-out or redesign? Completed. Your staff? Chosen and trained/retrained. The menu is overhauled, distributors are on board and you can't wait to fling open the doors and share your vision with – well, with whom? Don’t sharpen those oversized ribbon-cutting shears just yet…
Utilize Your Staff
Look around your bar. See all those people who are interacting with your customers, serving drinks and food, manning the door, managing the bar and kitchen, cleaning, keeping everything running smoothly, etc.? They’re an incredible marketing and promotions resource.
Create an Email Database
As an operator, it’s your duty to farm your employees’ family and friends to bring in guests. If you haven’t been requesting a list of email addresses from your staff, start now with plenty of time before your launch/relaunch to send out teasers, fliers and invites. Sure, you could try purchasing a list of contact information from a broker but that’s risky business no matter how you cut it. An employee-sourced email database is an invaluable, viable marketing tool you can’t afford to be without.
Network with Your Employees
Every member of your staff likely has at least a minor social media presence so there’s no excuse for your bar to be without Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Once you’ve decided to hire someone, gain access to their social media network and use it to promote your bar. Consider, if you aren’t already, designating a tech- and social media-savvy employee as your Social Media Manager to control what your staff says about your business. Just like you should be seeding hashtags for your customers to use, seed the photos, status updates and hashtags you want your employees to share when promoting your launch/relaunch.
Word of Mouth
While social media is the tool du jour for our current Age of Convenience, word of mouth is still one of the finest ways to share information. Get your staff excited about your (re)launch and they’ll talk it up to your current guests, in turn generating even more excitement. If you’re opening a new bar, word of mouth can work a couple of ways. For those of you opening your first new bar, staff members should be out there talking up the venue to everyone they encounter. Those of you who have owned and operated a bar previously will benefit from your staff talking to your existing customer base about the new venue you’re launching. Get your customers – both existing and potential – talking about your bar well before it opens and they’ll be clamoring for you to open the doors.
The Soft Opening
Also known as the soft launch, this is the opening before the grand opening. The way to approach this is with restrained promotion – you’re not looking to pack your place full of the general public. The soft opening is meant to serve as a way for you to analyze your staff, procedures and the viability of your venue’s design while inspiring your customers to talk about your amazing new bar the next day (you may even score a few live Tweeters sending out their experiences as they happen). The best approach to the soft opening is limited invites and word of mouth. You may be tempted to just invite all of your friends for support but the smart money is on inviting respected industry professionals and VIPs. These Very Important People should consist of those who will promote your grand opening and provide you with valuable feedback concerning customer service, the atmosphere, your menu, amenities and their overall experience and expectations for the future. Think of this as a not-so-stressful stress test: you’re gathering data while providing a fun experience for your guests to share with their friends and followers.
This works particularly well should your concept lend itself to the promotion of a specific beer, spirit or wine. If you’re specializing in craft beer, approach a craft brewery to co-sponsor your big launch. Even better, by the way, if you approach a local brewer whose products you’ll have on the menu. Should your concept highlight whisk(e)y, speak to either iconic brands such as Johnnie Walker or Bulleit or search for a craft distiller like Old Forester. Not only will their branding lend some cache and credibility to your new concept, a solid sponsor should be able to offer a list of their own VIPs for you to send invites; make their most loyal customers your loyal customers. With a sponsor backing you up you may also be able to save some money on promotional materials such as fliers and mailers.
Prizes and branded giveaways tend to be a great way to draw people to your open doors. A spirit, beer or wine sponsor can make offering a grand prize, various door prizes, gift bags and other swag much simpler to access and help cut down on a portion of the cost of your grand opening. The promise of free gifts and gear and the opportunity to walk away with a grand prize is a fantastic way to create the hype you need for your (re)launch. Consider offering prizes for retweets and post shares leading up the grand opening, the guest who brought the largest amount of people to your grand opening or even the person/group who traveled to farthest to attend the party.
Book a Celebrity
If you have the money and/or the juice, booking a celebrity for your kickoff party can result in a massive amount of exposure. Who has more followers than a celebrity? Book one with an active social media life and you’ll increase the amount of people who know about your grand opening by leaps and bounds. You can also, however, go another route. If your concept is geared more towards the small batch, small lot, craft crowd, reach out to a well-respected distiller, brewer or winemaker and arrange for them to attend your big party. Their presence will certainly get the spirit nerds, beer geeks and cork dorks talking about your bar.
Go forth and open grandly!