If you stick to the same old drinks every bartender should know, you'll have a hard time standing out in today's bar and nightclub market. There are hundreds of competitors and everyone seems to have the most popular cocktails and promotions covered: trivia, bingo, darts, bags, etc. Don't get us wrong, they're all fun ideas with potential. But they don't create a lasting memory in an environment with so many similar experiences.
Here are some unique, clever bar promotion ideas. Ideas for bars that you haven’t heard of yet. Maybe you use them, or maybe they inspire you to come up with something else. Either way, the important part is to get creative with your bar promotions. If you put some of yourself into your ideas, they're guaranteed to be unique. Don't be afraid to pair these with tried and true seasonal cocktails such as our recommended spring cocktails, summer cocktails, fall cocktails, and winter cocktails.
So let's look at two specific types of bar promotion ideas: drink special ideas and bar event ideas. Some of them are drink special ideas for bars, some are bar event ideas. And all of them are surefire bar promotion ideas to get people in the door and increase your bar profitability. All of these ideas can work for happy hours, but we've also got a post with some specific happy hour drink ideas.
Drink Special Ideas for Bars
First, our bar drink special ideas. These focus on the menu item itself, and not necessarily on a bar event. Though, coupled with a great bar event idea, they’ll certainly shine.
Embrace Canned Cocktails
What used to be a bit of a joke—the RTD or “ready-to-drink” cocktail—is now a serious phenomenon. Especially among the younger crowd. Cucumber gin fizzes, rosé spritzers, you name it. You can find a canned cocktail version of any classic cocktail and virtually all their delicious permutations. And it's a heck of a lot faster for your bartenders to make—no mixing, no free pouring, no nothing.
Put some on your drink menu (according to the principles of menu engineering) and offer them at a discount on a canned cocktail night. It's a drink special sure to speak to the millennial crowd.
Make Batch Drinks
This drink special idea is fun for guests and easy for bartenders. It can give them more time to tackle other bartender duties. It's also got a low pour cost and uses up your deadstock inventory. If you have a case of red wine you can’t sell, make a batch of sangria. If you have a bunch of new gin you bought that’s not moving, make French 75 punch.
On the nights you make your batch cocktail, price the drink right around a domestic draft and watch it sell.
Pair Drinks with a Snack Plate
When drinks are paired with tasting foods like cured meats, cheese, nuts, and fruit, they’re instantly more attractive to people.
Even a simple pairing like macrobrew and spiced peanuts can make a drink feel more valuable. And that goes double for pairing a craft beer with a soft pretzel. Or 3 types of gourmet mustard or red wine with 3 types of cheese.
Offer a discounted snack plate when a customer buys a certain drink. This is an especially useful way to boost revenue for bars that don’t have—or have limited—kitchens.
With proper allergy warnings in place, selling someone something mysterious to consume doesn’t have to be a disaster. It can be fun! Have a bartender whip up something delicious … and mysterious.
Sell it as a mystery drink. If someone can guess the 2 or 3 main ingredients in it, they get a free well cocktail, domestic draft, or house wine.
Imagine a bar across the street from a busy subway stop. Now imagine that bar having a special from 5–7 p.m. called the “commuter special,” and a sign that says so. Everyone exiting that subway stop throughout rush hour sees the sign and knows it’s meant just for them. There’s something irresistibly personal about it.
Try the same thing! Look around your bar’s neighborhood and come up with a special that speaks directly to the residents. Create a drink and name it after the street your bar is on. Or the neighborhood your bar is in. Or any other remarkable features of your neighborhood and its lovely people!
Embrace Pop Culture
Hemmingway loved his daiquiris. Truman Capote, screwdrivers. The Dude from The Big Lebowski? White Russians, of course.
Bond, Carrie Bradshaw, Churchill, they all had their signature drinks. Create a themed night around celebrity drinks or have a rotating “celebrity special” on your menu. This could work for items on any type of menu, too. Guests will be jazzed to drink the drink of their idols.
Use Drink Tokens
Bar tokens, drink tokens, and pub tokens are as old as the hills. Public houses and drinking halls in the U.S. and U.K. started handing them out all the way back in the 17th century. So why bring them back?
Because they’re ancient and weird and fun. Have a night when you offer a free or half-price drink when you buy one. Then, when someone buys a drink, they get a token for immediate or later use. They can even save their tokens to use during the next token night.
This isn’t materially different from offering a discounted drink. All you’re doing is using tokens. It’s an inexpensive, kitschy way to stand out, and it drives a little more value for the customer. They don’t have to “use it or lose it.”
Flip a Coin
Inject a little chance into the mix and make it exciting. Make the drink special contingent on a coin flip. Everyone loves a little low-stakes gambling.
There are two ways to go about it. The first, offer half-price drinks, but only if the guest wins a coin flip. A coin that’s flipped after making the drink. It’s a playful way to give discounts, it encourages ordering the next drink, and you’re only discounting half your stuff.
The second way is only possible if your bar serves food. Discount any appetizers half price if the guest or party wins a coin toss when they close out their check. This encourages more food ordering during the drinking session. Especially for the daring.
Bar Event Ideas
The following are bar event ideas that don’t necessarily have to be associated with drink specials. Though combining drink special ideas for bars and bar event ideas is a great idea.
A pop-up is an outside business that operates in a temporary location for a short period of time. It can be a local restaurant, a homebrewing supplier, or a clothing store. In this case, the temporary location is your bar and the period of time is an evening.
You’re giving your customers direct, exclusive access to a product. And you’re building bridges in the business community. Restaurant pop-ups work particularly well in bars that have no or a limited food menu.
Catch Night Owls
Bar traffic tends to die down around 10 p.m. But! 41% of bar-goers between the age of 21 to 34 say late night specials are “very important” to their decision of whether or not to visit a bar or restaurant later at night.
A late night happy hour running from 10 p.m. to midnight is a great way to get younger folks in the door. Or keep the folks from the previous rush sticking around.
Get a bunch of board games and keep them stacked somewhere visible. Letting folks grab a board game and play for free creates a chill, leisurely vibe.
Once you get a fair amount of gamers in, think about having a tournament. Quick and classic games like Connect 4 and Guess Who make for hilarious and fun elimination tournaments over the course of a few hours.
Astronomical and Meteorological Events
There are lots of goofy “official” holidays now, but here’s a better idea. Celebrate the world—nay, the universe!—around you and host bar events based on astronomical or meteorological events.
Some examples? Celebrate the winter solstice in December (the longest night of the year) by serving a black-colored cocktail made with black raspberry syrup. Host a summer-kickoff party and discount summery drinks the first time the temperature hits 70 or 80 degrees.
For 13 long years alcohol was illegal in the U.S. Related to the last bar event idea, you can celebrate important events from the past. Prohibition in the U.S. ended on December 5th, 1933. Host a bar event to celebrate the end of prohibition and serve drinks they drank in the early 30s.
How about the day we landed on the moon? Or the anniversary of the release of The Little Mermaid. From the history of drinking to pop culture to space travel, there are countless reasons to celebrate. The stranger and more memorable, the better.
Partner with a charity and donate a percentage of the night’s revenue to it. This has particular potential if it’s a pet-themed charity.
Your bar could partner with a local humane society, donate to it, and host an adoption event the same night. Even if no pups find a home, it’ll be fun to have a bunch of smiling dogs in your bar for a while. And the folks buying drinks and donating to the cause to see the beneficiaries of their charity.
Paint and Sip
Ok, you may have heard of this bar promotion idea before. But with good reason. They’re fun and people love them. We calculated that you’ll need an initial investment of about $180 to get up and running with a paint and sip event. And if that bar promotion brings in only 10 new people, you’ll recoup that investment after the 1st event.
The painting instruction itself is free. There are countless beginner painting tutorials on YouTube. And a pain and sip bar event is especially fun if you use a goofy one. Another version of this is our inimitable Bob Ross Painting Night.
Live Movie Screenings
Screen cult classics that are so bad they’re good. Something ridiculous that nobody has to pay too much attention to. They can just laugh at the bad acting, silly sets, or crazy costumes.
Or screen classics that are so good they’re good. Movies that everyone knows so nobody has to pay too much attention. Until the best parts come along, then people will laugh and clap and cheer. And order more drinks because they’re having so much fun.
The important thing is that you don’t want a movie that’ll turn your bar into a dark, quiet movie theater. You want people primarily reacting to the movie, not watching it intently. It should be raucous!
Hosting a story night is the down-to-earth, genuine version of standup comedy. Have guests sign up to tell a 3-5 minute story about their lives, which they’ll do like it’s an open mic night.
It’ll create a fun, intimate environment and start to build a community. And that community will come to identify with your bar. They’ll be happy to spend money there and support it.
And Those Are Some Clever Bar Promotions!
There you have it! 17 bar promotion ideas—both drink special ideas for bars and bar event ideas—to help drive traffic and boost profits. If none of these seem like a good fit for your bar, hopefully they gave you some inspiration to come up with your own version. You can even create a dedicated section in your menu to promote your daily or weekly specials. Using a QR code for a restaurant menu or bar menu will let you update that section on the fly without having to reprint paper menus all the time. That's a lot of flexibility to be creative. And a lot of opportunity to make money.
Another way to boost your bar’s profit margin is taking beverage inventory management out of the equation. Using a bar inventory system like BinWise Pro will turn manual inventory counting into a series of quick scans. It'll also give your bar tons of inventory data to help you make the most profitable ordering, pricing, and management decisions.