The winter season can be a challenging time to keep your bar at capacity on an average basis. The nasty weather can drive people away in a cold drift, or bring them in droves for a holiday. In other words, the weather leads to unpredictability. Savvy bar owners, however, know exactly what to do to ward off weather woes.
Holidays and Event Opportunities
The winter months contain a lot of holidays, so in order to meet with the slower pace, it is essential that you take advantage of as many event opportunities during the season as possible.
Mike Dooley, owner of The Craftsman Restaurant & Bar near the Mississippi River, admits to a huge spike in revenue during the holidays season (due to company parties), that now extends well into January. He told the Independent Restaurateur:
“Now a lot of companies do their holiday parties after New Year’s. That always makes for a good weekday night.”
Passing out fliers during early fall to local offices, putting out a sign, sending a social media blast, and holding a luncheon for local office managers are some great ways to get the word out there on office parties during the holiday season.
Targeted promotions are another way to draw in the crowd during the winter weather. Denver’s Central Bistro & Bar offer a $10 Bronco burger and beer special when the football game is on. They have also started offering a tasting menu, drawing even more people through their doors.
TapHunter is a great software program that can help you promote events on your printed menus, or straight from your bar TV on a digital drink menu.
Build Your Customer Base
Bar owners that attract a high level of summer tourism are especially at risk for losing revenue during the winter. Some owners have found ways around this, however, by building a solid base of repeat customers.
In order to do this, you must cater to the customers who are going to be around during the winter. As Lennie Holt the General Manager of Central Bistro & Bar told the Independent Restaurateur:
“Soon, we’re going to start promoting ‘Snow Days at Central.’ The first couple of snow storms people are like ‘oh no, this is terrible,’ and no one wants to go anywhere, but we’re hopefully going to rope in the neighborhood with this.”
Their “Snow Days” promotion consists of $2 hot toddies and discounted draft beer. They also offer discounts to apartment buildings in the area, hand out free coupons to locals, and host several holiday happy hours, just to draw in more of the local crowd.
Run a Tight Ship
Make sure that through all of this, you are keeping a close eye on your margins. For many bar owners, business ends a lot earlier during the winter months, as it gets dark and cold earlier.
Mike Dooley, from the Craftsman Restaurant & Bar, closes the kitchen early, and does extra cuts in front of the house, to combat revenue loss during the winter season. In spite of all of this, he never lays anyone off, and has thus developed a loyal and humble staff. As he states:
“We try to keep a control on staffing, but we don’t lay anybody off. We’re very cognizant of the fact that employees still have their expenses.”
When serving food, it is also important to adjust your menu based on the produce you have available. If you support local farms during the summer, you may find a scarcity of products for items on your menu during the winter. Adjust accordingly, and you won’t be paying astronomical rates for out of season produce.
Overall, the winter months can be fun, if you take it in stride, encourage a community, and get creative with events. Pay attention to expenses, hunker down, and comfort yourself with thoughts of a warm beach in the summer!