female bartender prepares cocktail

As college kids and hometown heroes return to their families’ homes in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, an infamous night falls before the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, men and women of all ages flock to their local watering hole for a drink (or three) with some old friends to reminisce about the old days. For those who are excited to see their high school classmates before spending the holiday with their families, the night before Thanksgiving is filled with friends, fond memories, and a whole lot of booze.

Whether you call it Blackout Wednesday or Drinksgiving, the night before Thanksgiving has the potential to be just as big for bars as other drinking holidays like St. Patrick’s Day or Super Bowl Sunday. The informal holiday got its name from the uptick in bar patrons joining together after months apart to indulge in their drink of choice before celebrating Thanksgiving. With practically everyone having Thanksgiving Day off of work and no reason to wake up before football games begin, it’s clear why this night has become a cultural phenomenon.

To help you prepare for the night before Thanksgiving, restaurant management platform Upserve tapped into data from over 10,000 bars and restaurants to see just how much these customers are drinking—and what they’re ordering—on Blackout Wednesday. This data can help restaurants make the decision to increase inventory, plan promotions, assess staffing needs, and maybe hire some security in preparation for one of the biggest drinking nights of the year.

Beer and Liquor Drive Blackout Wednesday Sales

Blackout Wednesday and Drinksgiving are common names for Thanksgiving Eve for a reason: The night is all about the alcohol.

Net Sales by Alcohol Category Before Thanksgiving Graph

Data from 2015 to 2017 revealed that from the Tuesday to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, there was a 63 percent increase in average liquor sales, with sales growing from $17.5 million on Tuesday to $28.6 million on Blackout Wednesday. Individually, beer saw an increase as well, with sales nearly doubling from $9.7 million to $16.4 million in just one night. Cocktail sales saw a similar increase, with sales growing from $8.8 million to $14.3 million. Wine saw a small increase from Tuesday to Wednesday, with sales growing just 13 percent from $4 million to  $4.5 million.

But guests aren’t coming with bigger appetites for food. Comparing Blackout Wednesday to the Wednesday prior from 2015 to 2017, food units per check have historically decreased the night before Thanksgiving, from 1.25 units per check to 1.22. Meanwhile, the average number of units per check increased slightly just before Thanksgiving for beer (0.95 versus 0.98), cocktails (0.97 versus 1.00), and liquor (0.98 versus 1.01). Wine sales have remained flat at 0.98 per check.

Average price Wednesday before Blackout Wednesday Graph

For the past three years, restaurant data shows that the price of the alcohol purchased on Blackout Wednesday versus the previous Wednesday historically decreases an average of 7.35 percent. According to the data, cocktail prices drop from $7.11 to $6.73, liquor prices drop from $7.41 to $6.94, and wine prices drop from $14.71 to $13.05, while beer prices show stability, maintaining an average of $4.36. This means that even though customers are ordering more booze on Blackout Wednesday, they’re drinking from cheaper bottles, so don’t worry about ordering high-end liquor or expensive wine for Thanksgiving Eve.

It’s clear. Customers are there for the alcohol, but and they’re ordering more across the board, with the number of total tickets increasing 31.7 percent from 1.5 million on the second Wednesday in November to 2 million on Blackout Wednesday.

Number of tickets per day Blackout Wednesday graph

While wine sales don’t dramatically increase from day-to-day during Thanksgiving week, they have increased year over year, which indicates a larger trend of a newfound love for wine. From 2015 to 2017, wine sales increase 20 percent on Blackout Wednesday, meaning you should take a look at your wine inventory and prepare to pour a few extra glasses of pinot noir.

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Bottom line: Stock up on liquor and make sure your bar is well-staffed on Nov. 21.

Four Blackout Wednesday Marketing Ideas

Beyond stocking up on vodka and whiskey, there are a few more ways that you can make this year’s pre-Thanksgiving celebrations the best yet.

Run a Social Media Giveaway

Instagram is a great venue to run a giveaway and get some extra customers into your bar on Blackout Wednesday. Besides general advertising and brand awareness on the social media platform, running a giveaway can help customers engage with your brand. Offer a gift card that’s good for the night of Blackout Wednesday or a BOGO drink ticket to customers that participate in the giveaway.

Another social media strategy is to create a unique hashtag for the special night. Encourage your customers to use the hashtag in posts on Instagram or Facebook and reward a lucky patron with a gift card. This will help you get some extra love on social media and show your customers’ followers what they’re missing.

Turn your Instagram into a marketing machine with Upserve’s Social Media Guide for Restaurants.

Target College Alumni Groups

We all know that Thanksgiving Eve is huge for reunions. Partnering with a local college’s alumni group has the potential to make your bar the go-to spot for those who attended their hometown college. Making this connection with local institutions and showing them that your bar is a good time will make them want to come back every year.

Offer Discounts on Appetizers

While your customers are enjoying your delicious cocktails, it’s important that they remember to eat. Soaking up the booze is key to a hangover-less Thanksgiving, so offering appetizer discounts with the purchase of an adult beverage is a great way to keep your customers happy while they’re sipping on their favorite concoction.

Throw a Throwback Party

Depending on your typical crowd on Blackout Wednesday, take your bar back in time by throwing a “Throwback Wednesday” bash. A 70s-, 80s-, or 90s-themed party complete with the most popular songs from the decade and an optional dress code will take your customers back to their glory days. Take it a step further by offering ticket packages that can be purchased in advance to attract larger groups.

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Five Ways to Prepare for Blackout Wednesday

Once you have your promotions planned for Blackout Wednesday, it’s time to focus on how to make the night go as smoothly as possible. With the amount of bodies in your bar and alcohol consumed, things could get out of hand before you realize it’s happening. Webstaurant Store shares five tips to help you prepare for the night and keep your thirsty customers safe on Blackout Wednesday.

  1. Trade in Your Good Beverageware for Plastic. To prevent shattered glass on the floor when a tipsy customer drops a glass, leave your nice beverageware behind the bar on Blackout Wednesday.
  2. Hire Bouncers for the Night. Depending on how rowdy your typical crowd is on Blackout Wednesday, hiring a bouncer or two could help your servers and bartenders stay focused on your customers, while the professionals can help break up fights or remove patrons that are too drunk or loud.
  3. Post Numbers for Taxi Companies. Although most people have rideshare apps like Uber of Lyft on their phones, it won’t hurt to have a backup plan for those who are too drunk to get behind the wheel.
  4. Cut off Patrons that Are Getting Too Drunk. If you have patrons that are getting too drunk and visibly intoxicated, don’t be afraid to cut them off.
  5. Stock Up on Cleaning Supplies Beforehand. Have staff members periodically check bathrooms and the throughout the night and stock up on spill absorbents to deal with them in a timely manner.
Check out Upserve’s guide to Restaurant Marketing Strategies!

Written by   |  
Holly Everett is a five-year restaurant industry veteran turned small business marketing specialist. After working at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island throughout college, she entered the world of marketing where she led B2B marketing initiatives at companies focusing on growing small businesses. At Upserve, she integrates her passion for the restaurant industry and knowledge of the needs of small business owners to help make restaurants wildly successful.