Did you have a tough winter? Did it seem like the beer taps were frozen in your bar? Well, perk up, chum, because slow season’s about over. We’re out of the slump; I can hear lawnmowers outside my window, and there are leaves on the trees. Soon all will be well again as people troop back into your pub, restaurant and saloons for some cold beers and hot times.
But why settle for “all will be well by and by”? Why not break some records and shock the tie right off your wholesaler! Operators can get even bigger beer sales this summer by putting together a package of promotions and common sense business ideas that will wow your regulars and grab you some new ones. Then when the slow cold times come again, maybe you’ll have enough extra profit in the till to jet off to the islands.
BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS
First, remember the main idea is not to get people to buy more beer in the summer. If it’s hot, they’re going to drink. The problem is getting more people in to your operation to buy your beer, whether it’s new customers or your regulars making more visits. Then your problem will become having enough beer to supply them, and that’s a good problem to have.
If you need convincing, just think about the disaster you’re flirting with if you concentrate too much on simply getting the same number of customers to buy more beer: they’ll be singing that old country favorite, “Why don’t we get drunk, and sue…” Bad news. Instead, focus on getting more people on your premises: more mouths, more sales, fewer problems.
Finding new people is hard work, so let’s put that off for a bit. It’s a lot easier to start trying to convert get semi-regular customers into regulars who stay for longer times. If Fridays and Saturdays are already blowing the doors off your joint, let’s look at pumping up the other days.
Take a tip from gas stations. Have you ever seen a “Wacky Wednesday” or “Super Sunday”promotion? Gas stations knock four cents or more a gallon off premium one day a week. They know that even in a commodity-driven business like gasoline, consumer behavior falls into patterns. If they start buying gas there on Wednesdays — even if they don’t usually buy premium — there’s a good chance they’ll stop in other days of the week.
That can work for you, too. Sure, there are happy hours; hey, everybody does happy hours. Do something different by running a special for the whole day. Every Tuesday could be Top-shelf Tuesday, with discounts on your imports and microbrews (this has the added benefit of rotating out and keeping fresh your high-end stock). Get customers used to coming in every Tuesday for cut-price good stuff, and they’ll be buying food, and playing the video games, and such. And you’ll benefit by seeing them twice as much as you did before.
Maybe even more than twice as much, because if they’re in more often, they’ll find out about the promotions you host every week. Your local wholesalers and microbrewers run promotions all the time, giving away free stuff, bringing in good-looking models for events, organizing “meet the brewer” nights, all sorts of efforts to help out with your bottom line. Even the imports are promoting more these days, especially since Corona changed the rules in that game.
The secret is that you set the night and make it a regular part of your calendar: every second Thursday of the month, every other Tuesday, or even every single Wednesday. Let the promoters know that’s the night they should come in, and your customers will soon learn that night is Freebie Night. And it doesn’t cost you a dime.
Encouraging your regulars to come in more often is fairly easy. Getting new people in is the tricky part. Do you advertise? If you’re going to, make sure to do it right. Find out where your local competition advertises and look at what they do; then figure out what you’ve got that they don’t. Make your point of difference the center of your ad, and make it loud and splashy. Just don’t run the same kind of ad or offer or gimmick that your competition does, unless you see a way to do it a lot better.
The other thing you can do is to come up with a good new idea, or use one from this piece, and write up a press release on it. If you’ve changed your menu, write that up and invite restaurant reviewers. If you’re doing a promotion that involves donating money to a charity, send it to the business section of your local paper.
It’s not hard to come up with new ideas; there are books in the library filled with advice and either you or an employee who’s good with words can write it your press release. Make sure it’s on one page, and explain exactly what it is you’re doing, why it’s amazing, and how you’re the only place in town doing it. Put your contact information on it, and send it to every newspaper, weekly entertainment guide, and radio station in your area.
When someone calls, drop everything and make time to talk. Invite them down for the event. If they don’t call, don’t give up. Journalists, radio and TV stations must come up with lots of material every day, and eventually they’ll check you out. Just keep at it, and don’t get discouraged. Press coverage offers fresh eyes and readers are more likely to be intrigued by a story they read or here than an ad. Your place gains credibility in the eyes of people who might otherwise never have gone to check you out.
OUT OF SEASON
Something that might get their attention is standing the idea of a winter beach party on its head and having Christmas in July. Specialty beer bars do this all the time by stashing cases and kegs of microbrewer’s holiday beers and trotting them out for a bash on July 25th. Richard Osenburg makes a big deal out of it every year at his Racer’s Cafe, outside Baltimore. “We serve up Sierra Nevada Celebration, Snow Goose, Brooklyn Black Chocolate, whatever will last that long,” he said. “We’ve saved them from two years before sometimes.” Take a tip: save them someplace dark and cool.
Even if you don’t have a clientele that goes for that kind of beer (though you’ll never know till you try), you can still pull out the Christmas decorations for a week of fun in the middle of the summer. Trim the tree, hang the mistletoe, and get one of your reps to dress up like Santa for a promotion night, and hand out freebies to all the customers who sit on their lap. You’ll pull new people in with this and summer fun like it.
What do you do with people once you’ve got them? Quench their thirst in a fun way that makes them think they’re either getting a deal or being treated better than they would anywhere else.
To really quench a summertime thirst takes psychology as well as real, wet beer. I remember my parents talking about drinking at their favorite bar in San Francisco when they were young, calling for “that bottle right next to the coils!” This is the time to forget the microbrewers’ best intentions and deep-chill your beer for summer sales.
“Ice-cold beer” is one of the most enticing phrases known to an over-heated brain, but all the cues have to be in place for the customer to believe it. Learn from the people who know hot-weather drinking. In south Texas, from Houston and San Antonio down to the border, there are little places called “icehouses.” They’re usually open-air places with concrete floors, a big floor fan to stir the air in the shade of the roof, simple folding chairs and tables, and a plain galvanized washtub full of ice and crackling-cold longneck bottles of beer. Nothing beats the heat like an icehouse bottle of beer, still dripping with the ice-melt from the tub, so cold you can scarcely hold it.
Get the icehouse magic working for you. Galvanized tubs are cheap at the local hardware superstore (I got mine for five bucks), and this is one time where you ought to get the genuine generic item rather than a branded plastic “cooling barrel:” you’re going for authenticity here. Pack ’em with plenty of ice and longnecks, prime them for walk-up service, and watch the people line up. Even such imports as Beck’s have recognized the appeal of longnecks, which they have recently introduced.
You can also go “mini-icehouse” by pushing hard on the bucket promotions offered by various brands, like Rolling Rock’s “Bucket of Rocks.” Top the bucket off with plenty of ice to create table-sized beer tubs. Not only does the customer have ice-cold beer from first sip to last, you’ve just sold all the beers in that bucket up front and taken some pressure off your servers.
DRAFT A PARTY
Keep the icehouse theme going by taking the party outdoors if you can. If you’ve got a deck, make the most of it; if you’ve got a sidewalk you can use, get out there as soon as you can. If all you have is a parking lot, use part of that. Wherever you go, put some shade up for some of the tables, and get the Jimmy Buffett music going. If you’ve got room, think about a “beach” for volleyball or lounging chairs. Your servers will be more comfortable in summer clothes and it will help make the scene more believable.
If you’re worried about breaking glass outdoors, the old kegger party image works fine, too: just remember to keep your jockey box overflowing full of ice, so people can see that cold. Don’t forget that draft is great for outdoors for other reasons, too. There’s a lot less trash with draft, and what there is won’t cut anyone’s foot or weigh half a ton in the dumpster.
Complete the icehouse atmosphere with Tex-Mex food. Not only is it in keeping with the season and the relaxed, Corona-like attitude, you should never underestimate the power of salt and spice. Actually, whether it’s Tex-Mex, Cuban, Caribbean jerk, or pure Southwest, if you serve food, make it beer-drinking food. Get out the frosted mugs and keep them coming.
MALTS OF ANOTHER NAME
Don’t get too locked in on “beer,” either. The hottest drink trend to come down the pike in years are the malternatives, the “ready to drink” beverages like Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Skyy Blue, Stoli Citrona, Bacardi Silver and others which are suddenly flooding the market. They may not look like beer to your customers, but the difference is pretty transparent from behind the bar and in the till. If they serve like beer, if they’re priced like beer, if they go down like beer, well, they’re beer. And not just any beer, either, but a high-end beer: these drinks go for the same price as a microbrew or import.
Be sure to be at the top of your wholesaler’s list for these drinks, because all indications are that the skyrocket is just taking off. Lisa Sommer of Bohager’s, the big Baltimore nightclub, says they can’t keep the coolers full of them. “We run out of [Smirnoff] Ice every week,” she said. “We’re trying to keep up, and each week we order more.” Bohager’s customers are already experimenting with this new category. “They’ll order the Smirnoff Ice and have the bartender drop some blue cura