The tried and tested, all-American college and university experience really isn’t complete without selecting a local bar to call one’s own. So much of student life takes place outside of the classroom, and a neighborhood bar or venue space is just as important for socializing as a study hall is for learning. So, what can you, as a bar or venue business owner, do to attract these students and turn them into long-term customers for the entire duration of their school year and beyond?

Simple: get creative. Having a handful of marketing ideas at the ready is key for turning business into big business. Before the new school year begins, try out some new and inventive promotional tactics for bringing in students.

We’ve put together a list of some helpful and unique promotional ideas for bar and venue owners hoping to increase foot traffic and grow sales figures by appealing to college and university students throughout the year. Check them out below:

1. Add “karaoke” to the menu

karaoke night with singers at a university pub
Karaoke night at Barrio Bar – Brixton

We’ve said it before… we’ll say it again: everybody loves karaoke! And even those who say they don’t (probably) secretly do. Whether it’s open-mic stage karaoke in front of the entire venue or dedicated private karaoke rooms you can pre-book for as many (or as few) friends you like, karaoke always manages to bring people together. And especially college and university students who are always in need of unwinding and de-stressing. In addition to being a stress reliever, karaoke is also a collaborative social experience and a great icebreaker for meeting people and making new friends.

Incorporating karaoke into your bar or venue is a majorly cost-effective way of bringing in extra income and turning recurring guests into dedicated guests. Once you’ve got the equipment set up, karaoke night at your bar or venue can be held consistently throughout the week, thus encouraging guests to visit more often, or every so often in order to create excitement.

students singing karaoke in a private karaoke room
Sing Sing – Gothenburg offers student discounts on their karaoke rooms

Try targeting your ideas directly to students – get creative with a student karaoke night or consider offering discounted rates to those who show student ID at the door. Spread the word by using social media or traditional guerrilla marketing (more on that later) by taping up some pamphlets at nearby college campuses advertising your bar and your deals.

For any business looking to increase revenue and foot traffic, incorporating a dedicated karaoke stage or private karaoke rooms is a sound investment with long-term sustainability. Karaoke is timeless and the concept will always attract die-hard fans while luring in those who consider themselves karaoke curious. For getting started with karaoke at your bar, Singa has a lot of options and advice.

2. Host some student-themed events, promos, and give-aways

One thing a lot of students have in common is a serious lack of funds, especially during those first few years of classes. Yet despite this, they always manage to make it out for celebratory post-exam drinks. Or pre-exam drinks. Or Thursday afternoon drinks or karaoke… any excuse, really.

One of the ways your bar can play host to these rituals is by making it easy for students to find, and then incentivizing them to come back, again and again. Put together a big welcome mixer during the back-to-school week with a few discounted half-pours or pitchers.

Chances are that a lot of freshmen new to campus will be immediately searching for the local bars on day one, so make sure yours is at the top of their list. Once you've hooked them in with some first-week-of-school discounts, aim for long-term loyalty by hosting college trivia nights, blind date events, school raffles, ladies' nights, school-supported giveaways (like credit at the local student bookstore) – anything that keeps students coming back for more. You can find some other creative theme party ideas here.

Student bar hosting a ladies night for female students
Ladies Night at Källarn Bar - Gothenburg

3. Take an old-school approach to advertising your space

College students, a.k.a. Generation Z, love nostalgia – just look at the latest trends in fashion, beauty, music, television, and so on… it’s all about capturing the essence of yesteryear (despite how OLD that sometimes makes Millennials feel). This is why traditional marketing is such a great tactic for your particular audience.

Promote your business on your social media pages (you do have social pages, right?!) but also carve out a small budget for advertising in local trade papers, magazines, art zines, and in on-campus newsletters and flyers. Paste some flyers on lampposts around campus and add a few to the campus community bulletin board. Make the artwork, and the messaging, really stand out and you'll be sure to see a few crowds of curious students passing through.

poster for throwback karaoke at barrio bar
Barrio Bar hosts a 2000's throwback karaoke night each week 

4. Reach out to V.I.S.P.s – very important student people

student social group at a bar

If you’re looking for a way to reach large volumes of students, some of the best connections you can make are with various key college figures: student ambassadors, social organizers, resident advisors – all of these people have a leadership role on campus, and they are often looking to build and strengthen relationships with their fellow students, so what better way to do that than bringing all of them into your establishment? Get in touch with the faculty at local colleges and universities and see if you can network with social committee members.

5. Turn your venue into an all-purpose event space

You’ve already got the space – let it grow into a new audience. If your venue has room to spare, or if your bar has a dedicated area for hosting some school-centric activities, let students and student customers know about it.

university student eurovision party at a bar
Student groups are often looking for spaces and bars to hold events.

Dorm rooms are TINY! Advertise your place as an event space for those looking to spend some cash for some private, temporary real estate. Theater students might need a cool rehearsal space between performances. Athletes could use a more intimate arena for training and private workouts. Or maybe some music students just want a space to practice. And if they pick a place with a bar attached? You’ve pretty much got customers for at least 4 years.

6. Re-think some items on your menu

Transparency is key. Many students nowadays are becoming much more conscious of the food and drinks they consume (yep, even the ones on a student budget). Even though bars typically tend to do just fine with the traditional gastro-pub fare, organic, dairy-free, fair trade, and plant-based options have since become staples of the Gen-Z diet and this could potentially have a detrimental effect on your business.

food menu selection at a student bar
Sing Sing offers both mean and vegetarian options in their menu

While it’s not realistic to completely overhaul your kitchen, adding a few more discernible and considerate items to your menu can not only make it appeal to a wider audience of students looking to secure a favorite post-school hangout, but it can also elevate your business and increase attendance from those well past college age.

There you have it! A handful of quick and effective promotional ideas you can implement today to draw college and university students to your bar or venue. Drive-up long-term business with these sustainable promotional tactics and watch your profits increase dramatically over time.