Paint ’n’ sip. Paint night. Sip ’n’ doodle. Painting and 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 in venues designed specifically to host them. But there are two things they all have in common: art and alcohol—namely wine, though often beer and sometimes cocktails.
There about 300 such operations in the U.S. by some estimates. These include Village Canvas and Cabernet, which opened in September 2012 in Omaha, NE; Brush N Bottle in Tucson, AZ; The Painted Lyon in Tulsa, OK; Splash Studio in Milwaukee, WI; Canvas, Corks & Forks in Schenectady, NY; and Canvas Paint & Sip Studio in Kirkland, WA.
Franchising paint bars has become a big business as well. Painting with a Twist, headquartered in Mandeville, LA, opened in 2007. The company now supports 182 franchise locations operating in 29 states.
Houston, TX-based Pinot’s Palette is a fast-growing, paint-and-sip chain that now operates more than 100 locations, largely through franchises. Founded in 2009 as Pinot & Picasso, the company changed its name in 2010 to avoid potential legal issues with using the Picasso name. Pinot’s Palette expects to open 40 more locations this year.
Starting from scratch
Many independent operators start their paint-and-sip concepts with a blank canvas. “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 open Brush It Off, a paint bar in Sturbridge, MA, about three years ago.
“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.”
The studio in 2013 opened a full travel calendar, booking everything from bars to country clubs. Brush It Off hosts seven to 10 in-house classes a week. The 2,000-sq.-ft. 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 15 to 20 beers and malt beverages.
Linda Lagana opened Graffiti Paint Bar in Nashua, NH, in early 2014. Starting from scratch was a learning process, she says.
“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 $35 to $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. Since Graffiti has a wine and beer license, it offers a variety of both beverages.
Lagana also teamed up with a local business, Moonlight Meadery, to promote the Londonderry, NH-based 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; appetizers are also available. Lagana offers about a dozen different wines and 10 different malt beverages. Alcohol sales represented about 20% of Graffiti’s revenue in the first six months.
“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.”
Paint Nite, founded in 2012 in Boston by Sean McGrail and Dan Hermann, doesn’t even own a studio; it partners with local bars and restaurants to host events featuring a Paint Nite with an affiliated artist.
“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.”
On average, the company charges $45 for admission ($65 in New York) for a two-hour session. The fee includes all the supplies for painting and a 16″×20″ canvas. Attendance averages from 25 to 45 people per event, McGrail says.
There are no food or beverage service requirements for the bars and restaurants hosting the events, he says. But Paint Nite does encourage them to offer a specialty cocktail just for event customers.
Paint Nite doesn’t charge the bars for anything, he notes. “They make money from drinks and food purchased by attendees, on what is typically a slow night of the week.”
Holding an artistic event is not for every operation, however. If you’re look to open a paint-and-sip spot or add such an event to your bar or restaurant, there are a few things to keep in mind.
One is proper lighting so that the budding artists can see the subject and what they’re doing, says Lagana. You also need to think about 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,” Lagana says.
Paint Nite looks to partner local hot spots that don’t have carpeting, which makes clean up easier. Bars also need good light, McGrail says, and they must be able to seat at least 50 people.
Promotion is another aspect of paint bars or events. Paint Misbehavin’ in Hudson, MA, found that creating awareness and “letting people know we’re here” was the most difficult aspect of launching the business, according to co-owner Diane Rosolko. The studio uses Facebook, Yelp and enewsletter, as well as printed flyers posted in businesses around the area to promote events, she says.
Brush It Off relies heavily on social media to promote the studio and its events. “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.”
Don’t be discouraged if you only have a handful of people the first time, Morgan notes, 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, she adds, “and for the restaurant hosting, which is getting the additional revenue.”