Top 20 out-of-the-box ways to promote your pub

Opening a bar or a pub is a risky business: failure rates for new pubs are even higher than those of new restaurants, which is 57 to 61 percent for a three-year period. This means if you open a pub, the odds are against you.

Promotion is key. You may have the best cocktails, the friendliest staff, the tastiest appetizers and still lose patrons to a pub down the road, which has a brand name and a better marketing strategy.

The key to pubs success is the atmosphere, and that’s why most pubs create a culture of fun, drinking and games. Pubs know that they need to focus around holidays as a boost of new customers and to facilitate special discounts and events (e.g. open mic night) to create patron groups who come on anticipated slow nights. For example, a common way to fill up a bar on Valentine’s day would be to offer a set Groupon meal with drinks for $50 per couple and give the ladies complimentary roses. Those are the basics. But what can you do to stand out from the rest of the pubs, which are basically doing the same thing?

Below is my list of top 20 things. Please add your ideas in the comments!

  1. Mascot social media campaign

Choose a fun mascot for your bar. Make little hand-held toys with it (or cardboard cut out of the mascot — cheaper). Get your patrons create a culture of “Where’s the mascot visiting today” posting photos with the mascot in various parts in town (or even abroad). Re-post the mascot photos on your site and have a vote on the coolest spot there the mascot was “spotted.”

2. Billboards

If you have extra budget, here’s an example of out-of-the box billboards you would have installed week-by-week to make it into a story. By the end of the 5-week period, I expect the whole town will know what Mo’s is and will go there to look for Sarah and Liam.

Inspired by the most brilliant outdoor campaign ever.

3. Radio

Thing about the radio — it’s very expensive and mainly effective if it’s very catchy and professionally made and is repeated several times a day. I was looking for ways to make a limited campaign for little to no money and have it play a minimum of times the radio station would allow (if possible, just for one day). Have a “patron” announce that they lost their favorite scarf near the pub and they are looking for whoever found it to return it there. “Last night, I lost my favorite scarf on 145 Branston Avenue at or right outside of Moe’s Irish Pub. Or could have left it in the cab. My late great-grandma knitted it for me when I was 15 and means a lot to me. If anyone found it, please return it to Mo’s.

4. Holiday- and event-inspired food and drinks

Celebrate special holidays or events with special food or drink items. E.g. if there’s a soccer game that includes a Mexican team, serve parsnip chips and sweet potato nachos. Add a pink hamburger to the menu for the breast cancer awareness month.

5. Use calendar to your advantage

Look at a calendar, maybe it’s veterinarian’s day. Then say veterinarians who will get a free drink after they show their license. Same with Nurses Day, Teacher Day, etc.

6. Milan-style happy hour

Sometimes cheaper drinks or 1+1 on drinks at happy hour fail to attract customers to come early because early customers drink less than those who come late.

I’m always surprised at why the rest of the world doesn’t follow the Milan happy hour model.

In Milan, most pubs offer unlimited complimentary food for anyone who purchases a drink at happy hour. This is usually individual pizza slices, but some pubs offer as much as salads, olives, cheeses, etc.

Try this out for a week as a promotion and see if it is too costly (depending on how much people will eat and how many will come). If happy hour is usually 1+1, this food-driven happy hour is 1+ food. Ideally the extra food per person does not exceed the cost of an extra drink, but if it brings more people, then it’s possible to add more cost to food.

Next steps:

  • Investigate which food is usually offered complimentary at happy hour
  • Create a campaign for social media and magazines that includes photos of this food and drink

7. Early Bird Menu

Create a reduced-price and eye-catching early-bird menu with unusual items to go with the drinks.

8. Unusual cocktails

  • Market a new menu of unusual cocktails
  • Choose a slow night to make a cocktail night
  • Announce a cocktail tasting night and menu (small shots of cocktails being carried around the pub on trays)
  • Get a cocktail expert to tailor cocktails to your pub

9. Family-friendly happy hour

On a slow night announce a family day with children’s menu and activities, such as a magician or a friendly (not scary) clown.

10. Game night

Announce a special game night for patrons with prizes such as late night 1+1. Use small puzzles, wooden or jigsaw that customers could solve in semi-dark.

11. Bring a magician

Make a magician night once a month. New patrons, as well as magician’s friends, will magically show up.

12. Drink ‘n ride

Partner with Uber!

Discounted taxi ride home for anyone who had 3 drinks or more (NIS 30 discount). Free taxis ride for couples who each had 3 drinks or more. Go even further — offer a round trip with Uber at a discounted price for pre-ordered dinners or special customers. Higher discount for happy hour patrons.

13. Give gifts to returning patrons

Do it randomly and genuinely so that it doesn’t feel fake.

14. Fun code

Special winter/summer cocktail for $5 only if the patron beats the buzzer with a special phrase, e.g. I want a cocktail for a SWEET TIME if the pub’s Sweet Pea’s.

15. Riddles

Write riddles on Facebook every day telling patrons to tell the answer to the bartender to get drink discount, e.g. post a phrase in Gaelic for an Irish pub ,and ask the patrons to try and translate it without mentioning the answer on Facebook or it will be null (that’s the hard part…)

16. Scavenger hunt / escape room INSIDE the pub

Have a little competition that also involves guessing drinks and solving a riddle. Can also do a virtual scavenger hunt on the bar’s website to attract traffic.

17. Boutique wine/beer sponsorship

Bring different boutique wine/beer on special nights. Ask the beer bottler for sponsorship. Include their brand in promotion.

18. Student crush

On Facebook for students, run a campaign in which a person can pre-order a drink for their “crush” at the bar.

19. Photo gallery openings

Attract different crowd and update your decor

20. Pub exchange

Pub exchange — find a sister or brother pub in a nearby town and have a mini-bus going between the pubs throughout the night.

Whatever you choose to do, remember, a genuine human connection with each customer is what will keep them coming back.

Yael Tamar is a freelance marketing chef cooking up ideas in various industries. She is passionate about health and fitness on the side. So much that she has her own natural supplement company, Pure Standard ( Feel free to check it out.

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