In the last few years, there has been a growing trend in hospitality that has many bar and restaurant owners scratching their heads: more and more, patrons are passing up opportunities for drinking and, instead, embracing sober nights or low-alcohol products.
The reasons for this increased popularity (which has been shown most prominently in millennials and Gen Z audiences) are that many people are more curious about their health and wellness, not to mention other lifestyle factors like alcohol’s effect on skin and overall appearance. Many are also eager to embrace alcohol-free challenges (like Dry January) year-round.
Curiously, much of the research points to the COVID-19 pandemic as having made a significant impact on the habits of younger people and their opinion of drinking (a trend that began as something called ‘drysolation’). While these newly adopted routines are noble, for bar and restaurant business owners it might seem like a troubling foreshadowing of things to come.
As the owner of such an establishment, you may be asking yourself why you should try appealing to an audience of people who don’t want to drink. But that’s not the right attitude to take. The better question is “how do I get an audience of people who don’t want to drink to come in anyway – and stay for hours?”
Booze doesn’t have to be the main attraction. We’ve put together a list of some unique and effective ideas for bringing in some alcohol-free business to your bar or restaurant – without placing too much of an emphasis on drinking.
1. Add a karaoke room
One of the surefire ways to get people into your bar without the lure of alcohol is by incorporating a karaoke room. A completely original add-on for just about any venue, karaoke rooms offer a big return on investment while adding resale value to your space.
The reasons are clear: karaoke is an engaging activity made possible by social gatherings. It allows friends to truly let themselves unwind and have fun in a judgment-free environment designed for playful competition. And while alcohol is certainly a fixture, it’s never a must-have.
Secondly, from a business perspective, the pre-book business model – wherein customers select and reserve their rooms while inputting their party size and desired number of plays – allows bar owners to anticipate how busy they expect to be on any given night, allowing them to bring in more or fewer staff members to cover shifts.
Best of all, by incorporating a dedicated area for karaoke fans who don’t care much about drinking, you are opening your bar business up to an entirely new and regular customer base. The income you'll earn catering to wannabe singers is sure to outgross the bar tabs in the long run.
Private karaoke rooms are pre-booked for a certain period, and customers then have the use of that room for a pre-determined amount of time. The time can even be extended when considering add-ons like drinks and snacks from the bar. Karaoke rooms can be add alot of value to any venue.
2. Keep things going with some competitive socializing
Another trend that is continuing to climb in popularity is bars with competitive socializing elements. Highly popular among patrons of both walks of life (drinkers and non-drinkers), this type of innovative theme involves getting groups together to perform high-energy activities such as billiards, shuffleboard, darts, foosball, ping pong, and basically, any type of interactive gaming with an inherent element of high or low-stakes competition between friends – all of it taking place within a dining or hospitality setting with food and drinks (or non-drinks).
There are different ways to attract new customers without relying on the lure of liquor, but competitive socializing is one of the most successful, not to mention cost-effective.
Monitor the behaviors of your regular customers and determine what types of activities they might like incorporated into the overall theme of your venue – maybe try it out for the first time on a slower mid-week shift and see how customers engage with it. Do they stay in your bar for longer or spend more money while playing darts (for example) than they did when there was no dartboard? And for customers who don’t drink: do they spend more on food (for example) while parked at the foosball table than they would if there was no foosball table at all?
This idea relies on a little bit of observational marketing, but it’s definitely a golden opportunity for drawing in new clientele.
3. Start stocking alcohol-free options
If you can’t beat ‘em (and you should never try to with anyone who opts for staying sober), join ‘em. There is a huge market for low-alcohol products that you can stock at your bar or restaurant – and more than enough options to keep on hand so that everybody is happy.
Move away from the patronizing naming conventions (like “mockaritas” or anything that starts with “virgin”) and instead be upfront with your menu. Have a list of inventive, alcohol-free options – or even get your bar staff to brush up on their creative skills and work with new patrons who might want to try something totally original – without the booze. Once your place becomes known as the guilt-free, ultra-hip hotspot that slings suds AND sober options, you can expect a whole new audience of people who just want to have a good time regardless of what's in their glass.
4. Host a weekly trivia night
Bars and restaurants that embrace themed evenings can really cash in on what might otherwise be considered a dead evening. By hosting a trivia night, you can really generate interest in your bar among locals and newbies alike. And if you’ve got a curated menu of low-alcohol or alcohol-free options on offer, the night could become a weekly success. Turn your bar into THE place to be with only a few inexpensive add-ons: an emcee with a microphone hook-up, maybe a couple of television monitors, and some free promotional posts on your restaurant’s social media channels.
As we’ve seen in the past, when bars embrace the trivia trend, there is typically an uptick in sales of food due to an increase in foot traffic. This is where bar owners can make an impact on their overall earnings. Tailor the trivia content to the topic of your choice: the more random the better, that way, everybody can get involved. Sweeten the pot by doling out prizes like cash jackpots, free drinks, or dining room discounts. With trivia events, the growth opportunities are truly endless.
Check out our Eurovision music quiz here!
5. Drag bingo or karaoke anyone?
While setting up full on drag shows may be a bit of a challenge, hosting a weekly or monthly drag hosted bingo or drag karaoke can be an easy and great way to bring in new customers, who will make a habit of visiting your venue. Connect with a local drag performer, advertise the event, and stay consistent with it and you will be sure to build a dedicated base of visitors.
There you have it! Some effective and highly engaging ideas for increasing sales and traffic at your small-town restaurant or bar business for those who aren’t that into drinking. As Generation Z and others continue to move away from a reliance upon alcoholic beverages on a night out, the future may look troubling. But it doesn’t have to be – if you know how to take care of your audience. Every one of them.