Dry January

Every year, millions of people commit to a New Year’s resolution. While the majority of those people (80% in fact) fail to meet their goal, over half of all resolutions are health-related. These resolutions mainly include goals around eating healthier and hitting the gym more frequently. In recent years, Dry January or “Sober January” has become a trendy New Year’s resolution goal.

What is Dry January?

Dry January is the abstinence of drinking alcohol for the month of January. It was initially a public-health campaign by the UK government in 2014. 

That year, over 17,000 Britians took part in Sober January. Since then, the idea has stuck with many Britians and has even become a noticeable trend in the United States as well.

dry january UK campaign poster
An official advertisement from the UK government’s “Dry January” campaign.

While the campaign remains an extremely positive endeavor with great results for public health, the bar, brewery, and restaurant industry have felt its impact in recent years as many liquor drinkers are staying home for their sober month.

This means the bar industry has had to become innovative, creating new campaigns and strategies to make up for the loss in drinkers – and in turn, customers.

8 Tips to Help Your Bar Survive Dry January

While it may feel counterintuitive for a bar to market towards non-drinkers, there are still many ways for these businesses to drive in-store traffic without the need for beer or alcohol.

Here are some of the best tips for staying busy during Dry January:

1. Have a Mocktail Menu

Many bars now have mocktails, or fake cocktails, on their menu. And they’re a great strategy for combating Sober January for two main reasons.

  • Non-alcoholic option: They give non-drinkers an option that isn’t water or soda. Mocktails have exotic flavors and for those looking for a substitute for the taste of alcohol, they’re a great choice.
  • Higher ticket item: Mocktails are also a pricier menu item, meaning more revenue for your bar.

2. Trivia Nights

Trivia nights are known for driving foot traffic to bars, pubs, and restaurants. Plus, they’re a perfect strategy to bring customers in the door during their sober resolution month.

You’ll need to determine your business’ bandwidth for hosting a trivia night. If you have the resources, you can host the event yourself with your own theme, format, and host.

For dive and smaller-budget bars, there are options to outsource the hosting and trivia preparation that can then be played on smartphones or tablets. Companies such as BrainSportz are a great option for bars looking to have a trivia night without the hassle of planning and moderating it.

For more restaurant promo and marketing tips, download the Ultimate Guide to effective Restaurant Marketing.

3. Pop-Up Bar

Similar to a themed trivia night, bars can create a pop-up bar experience to drive foot traffic to their business.

Replay Lincoln Park, a Chicago arcade bar, routinely hosts hybrid pop-up restaurant and bar experiences. Some of its most popular pop-up experiences have been themed around Game of Thrones, The Office, Rick and Morty, and Parks and Recreation.

While pop-ups do require a bit of planning and promotion, bars on average see an ROI of around 30% higher sales during weekdays when hosting pop-ups and drive word-of-mouth and viral marketing.

4. Offer More Food Options

While patrons may not venture out for drinking in January, customers will still be looking for dinner nights out. If your bar doesn’t offer dining experiences, you’re missing out on these customers.

There are four main ways to start serving food in your bar:

  • Open a kitchen: The most obvious is that a bar can build out its own kitchen, but it’s not as simple as that. A custom-kitchen buildout can cost anywhere from $250,000 – $350,000, and that doesn’t include the chef, the licenses, the food, etc. For many bars, this is not even close to feasible.
  • Rent a commercial kitchen: Bars can look at renting a commercial or commissary kitchen to cook their food in. While this is a cheaper option than opening your own kitchen (cost ranges from $15-35/hour), bars will still need to figure out how to transfer its food to its main location.
  • Partner with a food truck: Many bars and breweries partner with food trucks to sit outside and sell food to their customers. This is great for the Summer months, but not for Winter months (or bars in cold climates.)
  • Partner with a local restaurant: A new trend at bars and breweries partnering with local restaurants to serve custom food experiences at their businesses. Food tech companies such as 2ndKitchen partners bars and restaurants for free to help more businesses serve food and allow restaurants to make more money.
table tent menu at hopewell
Example of Hopewell Brewing partnering with a local restaurant in Chicago via 2ndKitchen to serve a custom food menu.

5. Board Games

Many dive bars today are packed with board games which is a great strategy for keeping customers in their business for longer amounts of time. It’s also a way to attract customers who aren’t drinking.

Branding a bar as a “board game bar” is a relatively cheap path for bars looking at adding in a traffic driver for down months, with the only upkeep involving bar staff maintaining the integrity and status of the physical games themselves. 

Because, c’mon, no one wants to go to the game bar that has a bunch of mix-matches games without all their pieces.

6. Watch Parties

With online streaming services, many TV viewers have stopped watching live TV. However, that’s not the case with sporting events, TV shows with multi-season story arcs, and reality shows.

Bars can take advantage of this by hosting meet-ups and watch parties for shows they identify as a good fit for their bar. Sports bars may go the route of hosting a college football gameday, while a local gay bar may screen the newest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

invitation to american horror story costume contest and watch party
Example of an American Horror Story watch party and costume contest at Sidetrack, a Chicago bar.

7. Loyalty Programs

Many bars already have customer loyalty programs in place for their customers. It provides a touchpoint for bars to reach out to their customers and gives patrons a reason to have brand loyalty and keep coming back to the same bar for hard to pass up deals and discounts.

Bars should leverage their loyalty programs in down months to bring in their most dedicated customers. Instead of promoting their bar to new customers, they should look to target their most active current ones.

Bars can promote a special drink for a night, or combine this strategy with one of the previous sober strategies to advertise their new mocktail, trivia night, or food offerings.

8. Promote a “Sober Night”

If you’re really targeting those patrons who have committed to a Dry January, then go all-in and host a “sober night.”

Consider hosting the event on historically slower days and times, such as a Monday or a Tuesday night. Your bar likely already experiences low foot traffic and alcohol sales during these downtimes, so advertising to a non-drinking crowd won’t deter away non-sober business.

Remember, January is Just One Month!

It’s key to remember that while Dry January may slightly decrease your bar’s revenue, it’s only one month. Get crafty in those four weeks and start preparing what your bar will do to make up for that revenue lost in early December so you’re ready to launch your strategies.

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Written by   |  
Levi Olmstead is the Director of Marketing at 2ndKitchen and blogger at LeviOlmstead.com. 2ndKitchen helps partner bars, breweries, hotels, and other businesses without a kitchen to a neighborhood restaurant to create a custom, branded dining experience.