I have been doing this nightlife column since August 2011. In that time, I have been to and reported on more than 100 bars and other types of nightlife-centric venues. In addition to that, I have been a performer for a better part of a decade performing in these very bars all across the country. This experience has made me very aware of bars that get it and bars that need some work. This week’s column revolves some of the biggest mistakes I see in new venues or venues trying to reinvent themselves.
I have been in bars in this town that have a metal trough for a urinal and a toilet with a missing door right next to it. I can’t even imagine what horror existed in the women’s restroom. Look, your place will never become someone’s second home unless they feel comfortable sitting down and using the bathroom in your bar. If they have to worry about being barged in on, or worse yet, a seemingly permanent smell of urine clogging their nostrils, your place is not going to be the one. Put a little time and effort into your restrooms. You should never run out of paper towels and you should not be using dollar-store pump hand soap. These things are not that hard to achieve, but you would be amazed how often I see this while doing this column.
Lying marketing tactics
If you have a marquee, use it to convey what events or specials you have on a given night. Don’t just post trite marketing slogans trying to lure people in. Yes, we know you feel you have the “coldest beer in town,” but it is not possible. Beer only gets so cold before it freezes. If you are serving beer slushies, then yes, you probably have the coldest beer in town. If not, just quit it. Also, you aren’t the “best place to watch the game.” ... The best place to watch the game is 1.) At the game. 2.) At home in front of a 52-inch TV where you don’t have to worry about getting up and having to use a nightmare bathroom (unless you, yourself, are a slob). Also, you don’t have the best burger in town. You have a burger some people have liked and said to you was the best. Likely one person, related to you, said that. Either way, unless your local media outlet awards you the “Best Burger,” yours is just a burger that some people like. Be original and talk about why your burger is so good. Do you get the meat from a local butcher? THAT is what I think would make me think it is the best!
There are quite a few bars I have covered that suffer from a true all out identity crisis. Are they a sports bar, a live music venue or a restaurant? This one is a killer because if people can’t tell other people what your bar is, it’s hard to get their buy in about giving it a try. Before you ever decide to open a place, you should know what your place is. Are you neighborhood pub that has a few Irish-theme menu items and karaoke on Thursdays and Poker Night on Tuesdays? Congratulations, you are 75 percent of the bars in Knoxville. Good luck trying to set your business apart in the competitive landscape that is Knoxville nightlife.
If you take the cheapest items from your food services guy and call this your menu, you can expect it is going to be pretty unsuccessful. If someone wanted to have a horrible slice of pizza, they would go to the movies or back to high school. Take a few minutes to have something on the menu that sticks out and is made so good that people come to your bar JUST to try that one thing. If everything is cheap and frozen, you are likely creating one-time customers.
Where is your stage?
If you are going to have live entertainment, for the love of cheese, build a stage! Install some simple lights on dimmers that point TO the stage. Don’t insult the act by having them perform on the floor in the corner like their other duty is to sweep up crushed peanut shells at the end of their set. If you can’t do this, simply don’t have live entertainment, because you don’t really care about it. You are robbing your patrons from a good experience by not having a decent sound system, house lights and at least a small raised platform for a stage.
That’s it. Don’t make these mistakes, and if you do, correct them. In the end, your patrons will be happier and will spend more money.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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