slow bar

Bar and restaurant theme nights are growing up and evolving into cultural experiences beyond a typical Hawaiian, trivia, or ladies’ night, and with good reason. If done well, theme nights can bring in new guests, improve customer loyalty, and infuse life into an otherwise slow night.

Three restaurateurs from New York, Chicago, and Richmond share their lists of do’s and don’ts for what has worked for them to create memorable, successful theme nights.

Say goodbye to Crazy Hat Day; hello to Anime Movie Nights!Click To Tweet  

Know Your Audience

The first step is to identify your target audience, or ideal guests, and build a theme that appeals to their particular tastes and preferences. Ideally, you will create a unique experience that your guests can’t get anywhere else.

“What worked for places on the East side, or Uptown, did not necessarily work for us in Hudson Square,” said Michael DiBugnara, creative director of Adoro Lei, a restaurant, and bar in New York City. “Paying close attention to who responded to our culture and frequented our place spoke to us about what new and fun themes to create.”

One of Adoro Lei’s most successful efforts has been through collaborations with culinary and cocktail talents in the industry, and building nights around these unique relationships. For example, they feature chocolate pizza with chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres, and themed punch bowls with mixologist Noel Nepomuceno.

“We always partner with influencers that fit our vibe, as we fit into theirs,” says Dibugnara. “Our crowd knows we would not host an event or create a theme that was not authentic to who we are, so they are excited to see what new players we bring into the fold.”

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Create Value through Experience

“Giving a price or quantity discount is always the easy way out, but it might not be what the guests are looking for,” says Kevin Yu, owner of Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. “Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and discover what connects to them. Not everyone asks for discounts all the time. Focus on what other value you could bring to the table.”

“For example, we do not run any price discounts during our Anime Movie Nights,” says Yu. “Our goal is to provide a stress-free environment with good food for people to hang out and watch their favorite anime flick or experience something new altogether.”

Focus on what other value you could bring to the table.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya keeps up with the feel-good theme of the night by donating part of the revenue from the night to a different charity each week.

Have Patience, and Measure Your Results

Kunal Shah, managing partner at Kabana Rooftop, a rooftop bar in downtown Richmond, Virginia, uses their theme nights to boost sales on slow nights.

“Theme nights are established to help ground your poor nights and anchor a way to help increase sales,” Shah says. “The next step is to establish a marketing budget and set a goal along with your target sales.”

“For example, on a Tuesday night if my business was only doing $1,000 and needed to reach $3,000, how much of a risk are you willing to take to follow a model that can take up to eight weeks to build,” he says. “The short-term may result to a loss but your long-term investment has the greater return.”

Kabana Rooftop decided to design a marketing budget to help give their three most challenging nights a lift, and reduce the marketing costs applied on the weekends when they hit capacity.  They anchored acoustic reggae on Mondays, jazz on Tuesdays, and salsa on the Riverview Area for Wednesdays.

“The themes complemented the space and took nearly 12 weeks to establish, but they increased our sales by 30 percent,” says Shah.

“If you have the right theme, give it space to breathe and the return will be worth every dollar,” says Shah. “This will restrain you from having to discount your products but still give your customers a return due to the right theme/entertainment provided.”  

What theme night ideas have worked for you? Share here.
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Megan is always adventuring. Whether it is simply wandering around Newport, RI or venturing off across the world, she is constantly looking for a new travel destination. While she may not be able to tell you the exact cities she has visited, you can expect a play by play of everything she ate.