As the “craft” cocktail trend matures, we get the benefit of more and more consumers interested in visiting our bars, but we also see more and more cocktail bars opening. Some would argue that some markets like San Francisco and New York might even feel a bit saturated – there’s a cocktail bar on every corner.

So how do you differentiate?

The Obvious:

I can’t NOT mention the obvious: Do a good job! Make great, consistent, drinks. Have great bartenders. Make sure every guest has a great experience.

Obvious? Yes. But too often mediocre bars skip this step and go straight to big promotions or fancy events. I’d argue that if your guest experience isn’t up to par, marketing will actually hurt  you – as more guests may experience your bar when it’s not at its best.

Take the time to get things right. Got it? Ok, keep reading!

Get Creative with Social Media

Most bars are on Facebook, and may use social media as a platform to announce events, menu changes, or general news. But Social media like Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter can be a great way to re-engage past guests and get them to come back in your door. A few ideas:

  • Your guests are probably already taking pictures of your beautiful cocktails. Put your bar’s hashtag and / or handle on the menu footer so they can tag you! You can also put it on your coasters, napkins, etc.
  • Highlight your team! When you announce your next menu, tag all of the bartenders who contributed. When you post pictures of your drinks, tag the bartender who made it.
  • Give your team the ability to post on your behalf. Keeping up with social media can be exhausting. Why not let your bartenders help? Provide guidelines on the types of posts you’d like to see (cocktail pictures, images of staff, pictures of the bar) and let them run with it.

Partner with Local Brands

You’re trying to get your name out there – but you’re not alone. Local distilleries, wineries and breweries are also trying to get their name out there. Combine forces and you’ll both get the benefit of reaching the other brand’s established audience.

This can be as complex as hosting events or tastings, or it can be as simple as putting their products on the menu. The key is to reach out to the local brand and let them know what you’re doing, asking them to help spread the word.

Play the Host

Local organizations, groups and clubs often have a hard time finding venues to meet. Consider offering your bar as a free venue (on traditionally lighter nights) for them to meet. Look for local Facebook or Meetup groups and reach out to the organizers. While attendees may not ring up huge check averages, they are likely to purchase something – and a fuller bar will also look more enticing to passers by.

Offer a Series

Offering a weekly theme or cocktail can give a great reason for your customers to come back again and again. A few series ideas:

  • Tasting through the Classics – a different pre-prohibition cocktail each week
  • The Continents – a cocktail highlighting a different continent each week
  • A series with different styles of cocktails all using a single spirit. (This is a great one to work with your distributor on!)

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could create a passport book or punch card for the series with an incentive for finishing – like a free t-shirt, for example. The passport book can also show people what’s coming in the future and offer educational information about each week’s theme / cocktail.

Host Events

Events are the single most effective way I’ve seen my clients increase their customer base. Take some time to identify your target market first (25-30 year old single professionals, 30+ dating couples, 30+ singles, etc) and then consider hosting events that cater to them and align with your concept. This is a great way to fill seats on slower days like Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

  • “Learn Mixology” class hosted by your bartenders (You could also market this as a “date night”)
  • Educational talks / tastings hosted by local spirits brands or brand ambassadors from larger brands. (Talk to your spirits distributor, they can connect you)
  • Food & Wine pairing dinners with local chefs
  • Reach out to famous bars in neighboring cities / states and offer to host a pop up at your location.

Once you’ve decided what kinds of events to host, publicize them on your social media and look for local organizations to help spread the word. Tell your local newspaper and submit your events to any local events websites or blogs.

If your bar is operating well and located in a saturated market, it may feel like there’s not much you can do to get more guests in the door. But hopefully this post has given you some ideas for creative ways you can think outside the box – and make sure guests choose your bar when trying to decide where to spend their next evening out!

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.