Paint n’ sip. Paint night. Sip n’ doodle. Painting & drinking. Those are just some of the names of a trend helping restaurants and bars fill event rooms on weeknights, increase revenue on slow days and expose their location to new customers.
Part amateur paint class, part happy hour and part girls’ night out, these events range from private gatherings to public sessions. They take place in bars and restaurants as one-night bookings, or venues designed specifically to host them. But there are two things they all have in common: art and wine/beer.
The Licensing Model
Paint Nite is one of the larger companies in the paint bar space. But unlike many of its competitors, Paint Nite doesn’t own a studio; it partners with local bars and restaurants to host events featuring a Paint Nite affiliated artist.
The company was founded in 2012 in Boston by Sean McGrail and Dan Hermann. “We were both regulars of bar-room trivia and that was certainly a seed that would later become an outline of a business model for Paint Nite,” McGrail says. “The two of us divided the labor; Dan took on the task of creating a robust website that would schedule events and I was responsible for marketing to bars and generating ticket sales.”
Currently, Paint Nite holds events in 87 cities across the U.S. and in four countries – approximately 2,200 events per month in all. On average, the company charges $45 for admission ($65 in NY), which includes all the supplies for painting and a 16×20 inch canvas. Attendance averages from 25-45 people per event.
“We partner with bars and restaurants that are local hotspots, those that don’t have carpeting (makes clean up easier!), that have good lighting and can seat at least 50 people,” McGrail says. “The bars don’t get charged anything from Paint Nite. They make money from drinks and food purchased by attendees, on what is typically a slow night of the week.”
The company also hosts private parties, corporate events, social outings, and just about any other kind of group activity. McGrail says Paint Nite recently invested in a corporate team-building sales team and he expects revenue from private events to jump from 10 percent to 30 percent of the business.
The artists Paint Nite partners with are local, and McGrail says they look for people with a ton of personality. “This isn’t a college level art class,” he says. “They need to not only have the creative skill, but be able to entertain a crowd of forty adults.”
There are no food or beverage service requirements for the bars and restaurants hosting the events, although Paint Nite does encourage them to offer a specialty cocktail just for event customers. The demographic makeup of a typical crowd is women between the ages of 21-35; women make up about 90 percent of Paint Nite attendees. And more than 60 percent of customers come back for a second event within a year of attending their first.
“Paint Nite is a win-win for local artists, participants and hosting venues,” McGrail says. “While people are painting and having fun socializing with friends, the bars and restaurants drive traffic on a slower night and introduce a whole new group of potential customers to their establishment.”
Building From the Ground Up
Linda Lagana opened Graffiti Paint Bar in Nashua, NH about six months ago, and starting from scratch was a learning process.
“It was a massive undertaking to build out the space, comply with building, health and liquor regulations and get the paint bar opened,” she says. “There were an unbelievable number of details to attend to – more than I imagined.”
Graffiti holds sessions in the afternoon and evening on the weekend, evenings Wednesday through Friday and a Mimosa Morning session one day a week. Lagana charges between $35 and $45 for admission, which includes paint, brushes, canvas, easel and apron. The location hosts public events, as well as private bookings for birthdays, bachelorette parties and other occasions.
“The word is slowly getting out,” Lagana says. “Some sessions sell out all fifty seats available, but summers are short in New England and we are competing with vacations and outdoor activities.”
Graffiti has a wine and beer license, so the offer a variety of both beverages. Lagana says she also teamed up with a local business, Moonlight Meadery, to promote the company’s mead in exchange for recommending her paint bar to customers.
Prices for drinks range from $3.50 for a domestic to $7 for non-house wines, and appetizers are also available. Lagana offers about a dozen different wines and 10 different malt beverages. Right now alcohol sales represent about 20 percent of Graffiti’s revenue.
“The process of getting a permit for alcohol service was quite easy in New Hampshire,” she says. “But we are required to serve hot food in order to have a wine and beer license, so that added significantly to our start-up costs.”
She cautions that holding an artistic event is not for everyone, and shares some advice for bars looking to hold a paint night of their own.
“My concerns would be proper lighting, proper table positioning and acoustics so customers can see and hear the instructor,” she says. “Then there is the mess. Knowing what happens in my studio, I’d be very concerned about paint getting somewhere it shouldn’t.”
If You Love It, Do It
“I had taken my daughter to a paint bar and just fell in love with it.” That was all it took for Denise Morgan to create Brush It Off, a paint bar in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
“It was the perfect turning point in my life, so I proceeded with a business plan and everything worked out on paper,” she says. “I found a place and opened up, and luckily for me the trend hadn’t really hit our state yet.”
It’s now two years later and the studio recently opened a full travel calendar, booking everything from bars to country clubs. In-studio Brush It Off hosts between seven and 10 classes per week. The 2,000 square foot room splits time between public and private events, holding a maximum of 60 artists.
The studio has a beer and wine license, so it offers a selection of wines by the bottle and by the glass (in addition to Mimosas in the morning for baby and wedding showers). Brush It Off also offers between 15 and 20 beers and malt beverages.
“Our audience is 90 percent women,” Morgan says. “I love listening to them talk because they always kid around about ‘the more wine you have, the better the painting looks.’ More than 60 percent of the people who come to us have never painted before, so it’s rewarding to hear them walk out the door surprised at what they could do with a little professional instruction – most leave with something they can hang on a wall.”
Brush It Off relies heavily on social media to promote the studio and its events. The company’s Facebook page has more than 5,000 likes and recently a video of a proposal during a paint class went viral, garnering more than 11,000 views. But getting to those numbers took time.
“Holding strong as the word was slowly getting out was one of the biggest challenges,” Morgan says. “We’re not in a big city like Boston where we have foot traffic and large visibility. But now that word has gotten out, we’ve been accepted very well within the community.”
Despite the initial struggles, Morgan says she wouldn’t change a thing and would recommend it to anyone considering holding a paint night.
“You’ve got to try it,” she says. “Don’t be discouraged if you only have a handful of people the first time, because it will grow. Doing it on a slow day where sales are typically low, it will increase your bar and food for that day. It’s a win-win for the artist or company running the event and for the restaurant hosting, which is getting the additional revenue.”
Q&A with Paint Misbehavin’
Diane and Dave Rosolko co-own Paint Misbehavin’ in Hudson, Massachusetts. The paint bar holds a variety of events, ranging from private classes to corporate events, bachelorette parties, boy scout meetings and fundraisers for non-profits. Diane agreed to share a little about her experience creating Paint Misbehavin’ with us for this story.
CHEERS: How often does your studio hold events?
PM: We’re open for public parties Wednesday through Saturday evenings. We also schedule private parties in the afternoon those days, as well as any time Sunday through Tuesday.
CHEERS: What do you charge for admission to a party?
PM: Our standard price is $40 per person, though private and kid’s parties are charged different rates.
CHEERS: Do you hold any off-site events?
PM: Yes, in addition to private events at the studio, we also hold special events for some organizations. We’ve gone to assisted living facilities, golf courses, recreational areas and restaurants for off-site parties.
CHEERS: Who leads the events? What is his or her artistic background?
PM: My co-owner Dave is the artist and instructor. The vast majority of our paintings are Dave’s originals. He has a BA from Massachusetts College of Art and more than 35 years of experience in painting, graphic design and various other artistic mediums.
CHEERS: What supplies do you provide as part of the admission fee?
PM: We provide all the painting supplies – canvas, easel, brushes, apron, instruction, and a canvas hanger to hang the finished masterpiece!
CHEERS: Describe the menu and pricing for alcoholic drinks during an event.
PM: We applied for and received a wine and malt pouring license from the town of Hudson, then approval from the state of Massachusetts. We offer an assortment of beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages; plus cookies and snacks are available for purchase. We have menu pricing for our 13 beers, 3 red white wines, 3 white wines and Prosecco. Our most popular drink varies by the crowd and type of party. Sometimes beers go quickly, and other nights are wine nights. When the guys are in, it’s definitely a beer night!
CHEERS: What’s your average group size? How do the demographics break down?
PM: It varies from 4 to more than 30 people, but we can accommodate up to 50 people in a class. Our audience is 90 percent female. As far as age, it varies from kids and teens to Octogenarians!
CHEERS: Do you track repeat attendance rates?
PM: Yes, we keep a roster of all attendees and repeat customers. We have a “frequent painter card,” so after five classes the sixth one is free. So far we’ve given free classes to two customers, and several others are on their way to earning their freebie. I would say we have at least a 30 percent repeat customer rate.
CHEERS: How do you promote the events, both before and after they take place?
PM: We take photos throughout the class, as well as group photos at the end with the artists and their finished paintings. All photos are posted on Facebook and some on our Yelp page and in our enewsletter. We have a strong following on Facebook and use that to promote events, as well as promotional flyers we print in-studio and post in businesses around the area.
CHEERS: What are the biggest challenges you faced in starting this business?
PM: Creating awareness was most difficult; getting people know we’re here.
CHEERS: What advice do you have for a bar or restaurant thinking about trying a paint night for the first time?
PM: Find a good company to partner with, and heavily advertise the event in advance.
A few months ago my wife and I attended an event at Esca, a local wine bar in Middletown, CT, put on by Paint Nite (full disclosure: this was before I had the idea for this story; we paid the same rate as everyone else for the drinks and instruction). Please be kind with any comments and keep in mind that neither of us had any formal artistic training before the day we painted these “masterpieces.”
The audience at the event I attended was about an 80/20 ratio of women to men, with about 30-40 people total. There were several large groups of women, as well as couples (like us) and some mixed-gender groups. The restaurant’s full bar was available for purchase to attendees, as were a number of small-plate food items.
My wife and I each had a glass of wine; she also had a Sangria and I had a beer later in the night. Altogether it took about 2 hours of instruction to create the paintings, and everyone definitely seemed to have a good time. I would probably try another paint night, but next time I think I’ll bring along a few more friends to join in on the fun.
For readers located in the Northeast, here’s a great list of paint bars available in the Boston area. Massachusetts seems to be one of the epicenters of the paint bar trend, so there are dozens to choose from across the state.
And here’s where you can find more information about the companies featured in this story:
Paint Nite: www.paintnite.com
Paint Misbehavin (Hudson, MA): www.paint-misbehavin.com; 978-618-0794
Graffiti Paint Bar (Nashua, NH): www.graffitipaintbar.com; 603-589-9948
Brush It Off (Sturbridge, MA): www.brush-if-off.com; 774-241-3444