For most bar and restaurant operators and others in the hospitality industry, fall means the busiest season between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend (a.k.a summer) has ended. Tourism is down, summer vacations are over, and potential customers are spending more time at work and at home.
The days are shorter and the nights are colder, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up the patio and tuck ourselves away for winter. In fact, according to a Gallup poll, most Americans actually prefer fall to summer. Thus, your seasonal marketing should remind your guests that the finest weather – and many of the finest holidays – are still ahead.
Yes, your seasonal promotions do not have to cool off with the weather! So, pull on those sweaters, boots and wool hats, and offer up some cozy autumn-themed events at your establishment.
Here are six ideas to keep your bar or restaurant from going into hibernation.
1. Oktoberfest, September 17th to October 3rd
Oktoberfest is the celebration of traditional German culture, food and beer. The festival has been held in late September to early October for more than 200 years in Bavaria, and recreated in other cities all over the world. For a bar or restaurant owner looking to boost sales, it’s the perfect way to kick off a fall marketing plan.
Of course, German food and beer is a must for this occasion. In fact, at the original Oktoberfest in Bavaria, rules stipulate that the beer served in its tents must come from one of six breweries in Munich:
While Augustiner or Spaten would offer an authentic touch to your Oktoberfest, the bar owner outside of Germany doesn’t need to be so strict. Any traditional German hefeweizens, kölsches or pilsners will have your guests shouting, “Prost!”
And don’t forget your traditional German drinkware – the tall, tapered pilsner glass, the classic beer stein, and the bierstiefel glass boot. While you’re at it, cover your patio tables in blue and white checked gingham tablecloths for biergarten vibes.
German food like soft pretzels, sauerkraut and bratwursts will be on theme and pair perfectly with your Oktoberfest beer. Finally, serve up black forest cake for dessert.
2. Fall Menu Launch, September 22nd
If you don’t change your menu with the season, there are so many reasons why you should. Seasonal menus lower food costs. By avoiding pricey out-of-season items, the transportation costs of your ingredients will be much less, and they’ll be fresher. Seasonal menus also allow you to create urgency. Before those summer favorites are 86ed, let your customers know via social media or email blast, so they can hurry in and get them while supplies last.
A seasonal menu also gives you the opportunity to host a fall menu launch event. Your menu launch doesn’t have to be on the fall equinox, which is Sept. 22nd this year, and if you are already throwing an Oktoberfest at your venue, it might be smart to push it back to the second week of October, between the end of Oktoberfest and Halloween.
For fall menu items, think about what’s in season in your area, what’s local and fresh. If you are in the northern hemisphere, nothing says fall like pumpkins. Try pumpkin gnocchi in a sage butter sauce, pumpkin fries with greek yogurt for dipping, and of course pumpkin pie. This is just a start. There are a ton of hearty comfort foods out there that would be the perfect addition to your fall menu. A quick Google search, or fall cookbook, can give you more ideas.
Apple, pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg are perfect bar staples for fall. Try an apple cider bourbon cocktail garnished with thinly sliced apple. If a comfy sweater were a cocktail, it would be the classic hot buttered rum with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, making it the perfect boozy accompaniment to cool weather. And for a lighter, bubblier beverage that could pair well with brunch, try an apple cider mimosa rimmed with cinnamon and sugar.
If you want to jump into fall with seasonal offerings but don’t have the time or the patience to redesign your menu, check out these customizable menu templates. There are thousands of options, sure to fit any aesthetic or event.
3. Drink Beer Day, September 28th
Drink Beer Day is as self-explanatory as it gets, and a great excuse for a marketing campaign. Tempt your customers with fall beverages like pumpkin beers, porters, stouts and ambers. Or, you could use the event to blow out any leftover Oktoberfest beers.
Drink Beer Day offers the perfect opportunity to drive customers with promotions. You can advertise on table tents and menu inserts, or via email blasts and social media. Don’t forget to use #DrinkBeerDay on social media. Offering specialty beers, drink promotions, beer flight promotions or even beer-themed bar trivia can spice up your night and get customers to your bar.
You’ll also want to highlight for your potential customers those dishes that pair perfectly with your fall beer holiday. Many of your dishes from Oktoberfest can pull double-duty here – things like giant pretzels and bratwursts, but so could a fall-themed giant cheeseburger or a delicious pizza.
4. Halloween, October 28th to 31st
This is a big one for any bar owner’s fall event calendar – and for some restaurants. It officially falls on a Monday, but that doesn’t mean your venue can’t kick-off the party a little early – just make sure you get the word out with flyers, emails and social media posts to drive interest.
Head to your nearest party supply store and pick up spooky decorations, cobwebs, tombstones and any other items that will get your customers in the spirit. If you can’t or don’t want to decorate your whole bar, a smaller space might be cheaper and easier to manage. Think about creating at least one Insta-worthy space for your guests to take photos and selfies. By offering incentives for posting and tagging your bar, Halloween can also allow you to generate buzz online and create a lot of fun guest-generated content.
Costume contests are great Halloween promotions. You can advertise for the funniest, the most creative or the scariest costumer. If you want to go all out, why not all three? You’ll want to incentivize your costume contests, probably with something big to drive interest. You could offer a gift card, a month or longer of free dinners, or a keg of free fall beer.
Halloween-themed food could include deviled eggs, a witch’s cauldron themed stew, or a charcuterie board with a gourmet Halloween-candy twist. Try creating black olive “spiders” by cutting them in such a way as to create a fat black body with eight creepy-crawly legs. These look great on deviled eggs, salads or pizza.
There are many fun and spooky Halloween-themed cocktails. "The Witches Brew" has a mix of vodka, Sprite, Hawaiian Punch Green Berry Rush or melon liqueur (for color), and gummy worms. Drop in some dry ice for a smoky, boiling-cauldron look. If you want something less sweet and more boozy, try a pumpkin old fashioned featuring pumpkin puree, bourbon, and cinnamon sticks for garnish.
If you have TVs, pop in a Halloween-themed movie – anything from The Exorcist to Monsters Inc., or whatever best fits your vibe. For a zombie dance off, try a Halloween-themed playlist. From Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to “Monster Mash” by Boris Pickett. There are many spooky options.
5. Black Friday, November 25th
Do your customers a favor and give them an excuse to skip Black Friday this year. All of the big-box stores are offering insane deals on televisions and electronics, and some of the major chain and fast food restaurants are getting in on the action.
Krispy Kreme offers a free glazed donut with any brewed coffee. Applebee's offers a bonus $10 gift card for every $50 gift card you buy. So, why can’t your bar open for brunch and do something similar?
Your customers will likely be stuffed from a heavy Thanksgiving dinner, so keep your food and drinks light and sweet. Yogurt parfaits, overnight oats, french toast, pancakes and fluffy omelets are likely to bring in the customers. For cocktails, mimosas are an obvious choice. Sweet tea sangria and lemonade sangria are nice options after a night of binge eating, as are Irish coffee and rum iced coffee.
You can run promotions like “Buy One, Get One” or half price appetizers and desserts. Holiday gift card promotions are on theme. You could offer a $10 or $25 gift card bonus for buying a $50- or $100-dollar gift card, allowing your guests to give a gift while also getting something for themselves in return.
6. National Lager Day, December 10th
Celebrate your favorite bottom-fermented beverage with National Lager Day. While the holiday doesn’t offer much in the way of cocktail promotions, it’s a great way to get beer drinkers to your bar. Use #NationalLagerDay in all of your social media posts to boost your account’s reach.
Promotions on beer flights can showcase the variety of lagers you offer, from the pale “Helles” German lager to the darker “Dunkel.”
“Buy One, Get One” beer promotions are also a great way for your customers to sample your range of beers, lagers or otherwise. You can also offer lager-themed dishes, or dishes that pair well with the traditionally lighter lager beer. Soft pretzels and bratwurst would work perfectly, as would beer dip, English-style fish and chips and braised pork with Dunkel beer gravy.
Promote, Promote, Promote!
With these and all of your other events, of course you’ll want to promote them. For your larger events – Oktoberfest, Fall Menu Launch and Halloween – a multi-pronged marketing strategy would likely be best. For these events, consider using all of your marketing tools available – flyers, email blasts, table tents, social media posts, etc.
For the smaller events like #DrinkBeerDay and #NationalLagerDay, flyers and table tents would work, but there’s a reason why these smaller holidays are called social media holidays. They offer a quick, easy and inexpensive way to boost your social media marketing and drive sales.
Make sure your social media posts are eye-catching and clear. You can also use the classic “Follow and Tag a Friend” Instagram contest to expand your reach online and attract new customers to your venue. If you don’t have a degree in graphic design, or if you are pinched for time, check out these free social media templates for Instagram and Facebook.
Mark Plumlee is the senior content manager for MustHaveMenus, a leading design software and template provider for bars and restaurants.
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