While hosting promotions around holidays are always an advantage for bar and nightclub businesses, none draw crowds more so than Halloween. The holiday has taken on a life of its own and some venues can attract guests with just a small Halloween promotion.
However, Mark Domitrovich, owner of Pioneer Tavern Group, which owns Lotties, The Pony and Frontier in Chicago, thinks on a larger scale than riding the wave for Halloween. This year, the company is hosting its third annual Haunted House Bus Trip to Statesville Haunted Prison on Oct. 24.
“Halloween has become—at least in Chicago—one of the biggest days of the year,” he says. And for this promotion a bus will leave both Lotties and The Pony, to take guest on the haunted adventure. Guests can purchase a $40 per person package that includes transportation to the prison, haunted house admission and refreshments to and from the location. For $60 per person, guests will enjoy a VIP pass, allowing them to skip the line and enter the prison first.
Domitrovich is expecting 160 guests, but the real benefit comes before and after the event when guests come to hang out at the bar.
But “it’s a risk if you don’t book and bust,” Domitrovich says. “That’s the tricky part about hosting a promotion like this. You can get stuck if you don’t sell it and then you’re in trouble.” The promotion, he says, isn’t a huge money-maker for the company, but it ultimately builds good will and loyalty, letting guests know that Pioneer Tavern Group “always has something going on,” he says.
Domitrovich’s has seen success with the haunted house bus tour, but the promotion is still evolving. The VIP tickets are a new addition, and Domitrovich hopes the exclusive access will appeal to guests.
Plus, changing up the location every year keeps the promotion fresh. However, that involves a vetting process. “It’s multifaceted for sure,” he says. First, the company has to check the haunted house policy, if it can accommodate large crowds and if they have discounts. Additionally, Domitrovich has relationship with bus companies that help out with the costs. “A lot of parts go into it,” he says.
Tavern Pioneer Group is doing it better every year. Domitrovich says that comes from planning enough time to work out the details, which include getting staff on the schedule to ride along with the guests and to ensure there’s no drinking on the bus—a huge liability for Tavern Pioneer Group and the bus company, he explains.
Generally, the team focuses on in-house promotions, social media and email databases. However, they are “always looking for something new and different” and Halloween provides a great opportunity to do something fun and out of the ordinary.