It’s about as easy getting a reservation at Sarma in Somerville, Massachusetts, as finding a pearl in an oyster—unless you check out the industry night, of course, when the wildly popular small-plates restaurant has taken over a different restaurant to serve up dishes like cicchetti and Venetian small bites.
Recently, Sarma executive chef Cassie Piuma headed over to Boston’s South End for a Wednesday night event in the bar and bacaro area of SRV with free apps not available on the regular menu. And this summer, Piuma and crew headed over to South End mainstay Toro tapas bar for a service industry ladies’ night event that also featured Tito’s vodka and an all-female playlist.
“Themed industry nights and funky decorations have been a big hit,” says Toro general manager Kate Barry. “Toro followers anticipate our announcements of monthly partners, so we’ve definitely gained traction, and our food and beverage partners are now super excited to get involved.”
Once held just for insiders for networking and kicking back on the nights when restaurants were traditionally closed, today’s industry nights (just one kind of theme night) are now also generally open to the public for kicking back a beverage (or three!) with their favorite servers and barkeeps.
Whether they’re held monthly or weekly, industry nights are all about gaining or growing a following, then seeing slow nights steamroll into sales.
Case in point: In Boston’s bustling Seaport district, Empire’s 600-person massive space is often almost half-full on traditionally slow Mondays, says assistant general manager Kim Pirani, thanks to an all-you-can-eat sushi flat rate of $29. Whereas Friday and Saturday nights see about 600 people seated, Mondays bring in up to 250 alone, not including walk-ins for bar seats. While the bar menu includes half-price specialty items like sushi cupcakes, the unlimited sushi includes two rounds of two rolls to start per person, then one each after that.
“It’s a great way to come in and try new things since those items are on the regular menu—so you can sample more and figure out what you want when you come back,” says Pirani.
And most diners do, she says. That’s mostly thanks to a big social media boost for the swanky space with an open-kitchen concept. Add a DJ spinning tunes—and themes like ‘90s night—and it makes for an evening that Pirani says she even attends with her friends on nights off from work. “Even when I worked here before—this is my second time—I’d always come in for industry night on my night off with friends just to socialize. Plus, it’s just a great deal.”
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Industry nights are all about gaining or growing a following.
A “gimmick” can also help if music’s not amping it up enough. Toro recently featured a whole brisket carved with a humongous sword courtesy of a “takeover” featuring Mamaleh’s Delicatessen in Cambridge; and Loco Mondays at Bodega Negra in New York City feature performances like sword swallowers, strip teases, fire breathers, dominatrices and more. The entertainment isn’t announced in advance, however, so the surprise factor is part of the anticipation says promoter Haley Silvers.
“I mean, who expects to see a burlesque dancer prancing around half-naked on a dinner table with tassels on her nipples? No one,” she said. But what happens at industry night doesn’t always stay there—the payoff on social media helps generate buzz for a regular ongoing clientele on other nights as well.
Word of mouth, indeed.
Looking for service industry night ideas of your own? Here are some tips from the pros to get you started:
- Feature local products—Toro’s November Industry Night on Nov. 17 features Vermont-based Shacksbury Cider and Barr Hill gin
- Include special guest appearances—SRV switches it up with a different local chef each month
- Promote exclusivity with items found only at the bar, a la SRV
- If possible, follow SRV’s lead and make the bites complimentary so you can focus on selling beverages
- Include a gimmick, like rotating entertainment at Bodega Negra
- Ramp up excitement via previews on social media
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