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Over the past two years Strategic Bar Solutions (SBS) has traveled the United States visiting hundreds of hotels performing Assessments. The goal of these visits was to bring an experienced bar business eye to a hotel bar situation and deliver feedback to property GM’s and F&B leaders.
We’ve found every property situation to be different. Opportunities are not consistent and the strategy to go after an opportunity is often driven by the specifics of a local situation. We don’t look at concept resets which translate into blowing everything up and starting from scratch. We are not fixated on the art of creating perfect cocktails and the world’s best Flatbread. We focus on available chess moves that will move revenues up and costs down.
In most situations, we have found a chess move that makes sense for F&B within the hotel is the execution of an inbound marketing strategy. The need for executing a bar inbound marketing program is dictated by several factors:
  • Do you have a Living Room oriented concept? Its tough to compete against all of the bar options in your local market, but Living Room concept bars are proving to not only be preferred by your Hotel Guests, they are a unique and preferred choice of a whole lot of potential local and transient customers.
  • Are there micro markets around you (non hotel / event guest customers) that you can pull into your business?
  • Is your existing Digital Marketing program driven by the overall Hotel marketing mission? In other words is the bar just a tab on your hotel website and other digital portals such as Facebook and Instagram?
  • Living Room oriented bar venues are proving to be winners in the hotel segment. The idea that I can visit the bar, find a place to setup my laptop, watch TV, have a few small bites, and be comfortable leads to an extended visit in the venue. A visit which includes enjoying beverages and food over a 2-3 hour period. The idea that I can have an informal huddle with business associates or friends and not have the interruptive impact of a more traditional bar environment is also a visit magnet. That kind of experience is attractive to not only hotel guests (rooms and events), but also to a whole lot of people who are not guests. In some cases there is some work to be done to get to the right setup. Move a little furniture. Add some community tables. Modify the menu to have more small bites options. But the old adage that if you build it – they will come is not how it works anymore. You have to have an inbound marketing program to pull non hotel guests into that environment.
    There are often micro markets all around a property that are likely to have those living room bar oriented customers. Happy Hour programs rarely produce the desired result and end up just cannibalizing margin. Your micros markets exist in residential, end of business day, or interest groups so shotgun blast marketing strategies will not get you the connection you need to create awareness of your bar as a perfect fit for what an outside guest is looking for. One downtown hotel client was right next to a dog walking park – a very rare commodity in a downtown setting. After setting up an outside area and a fun program for those customers, they were left with the challenge of creating awareness that their bar was a welcome place for pet lovers and their pets. A very unusual local strategy, but who cares if revenues double.
    Over the last 2 years we have been asking GM’s and F&B managers whether their existing digital marketing program, often dictated by corporate marketing groups, is helping them grow their bar business, the most common answers are I don’t know or no. Less than 5% say they are getting bar business development impact from the hotel digital marketing program. Yet in 95+% of these situations the corporate hotel marketing program is world class and a key driver in the overall hotel business growth strategy. The reasons are:
  • The primary driver for hotel marketing programs are – more hotel guests (rooms). In an industry which is focused on Occupancy and ADR growth, the goal of the bar marketing program is to highlight the bar as a great amenity in the effort to win the customer as a hotel guest – and there is nothing wrong with that strategy. The bar marketing program has to live on its own, outside the hotel marketing program and have its own digital identity. Yet because it is still an amenity it has to be executed in sync with overall identity standards. When property teams try to run their own social media programs for the bar, corporate marketing teams are driven crazy because of the standards conflicts and quality issues. This leads to a zero tolerance for independent local marketing programs.
  • The kind of outreach messaging and targeting that you need to build a non hotel guest bar connection, is very different then what works to chase a hotel guest. In addition, a bar digital marketing program is very different than a restaurant focused program. A program that effectively supports a great concept restaurant with its own identity, will not work when you go after a Living Room bar customer. And you can’t turn to the promoter world that is used in high volume active lounge / nightclub situations to drive customers into the venue, because a Living Room bar is not a nightclub. You have to partner with experts who understands the digital marketing space and the business development environment to execute effective digital marketing strategies.
  • Inbound marketing programs for hotel bars require work to be done. And there are no resources standing around in lean hotel management teams to take on that responsibility. In addition the key to success in any inbound marketing program is delivering quality content that is effectively distributed. It’s not just about making Facebook posts like you do on your personal Facebook page. And corporate marketing teams are likewise fully consumed by the overall Hotel brand marketing objective. You need a partner who can execute locally with quality and who can stay in formation with the corporate marketing effort.
  • In my personal Assessment travels I often recommend to GM’s that they can partner with whom I have confidence can execute against an opportunity in a given situation. But I have never found a partner who can effectively help with a bar digital marketing program. The net result is this opportunity withers on the vine of “no way to go after it.” That is why we have created SBS Inbound. It’s a program that we offer when a local GM, an owner and SBS recognize there is a 2 to 3x business growth impact opportunity in the bar/restaurant in a hotel situation. The program gets funded at the property level, so there is no carve out of limited corporate marketing budgets and the program is executed by SBS, so there is both consistency and quality assurance in the program. The great thing about Inbound marketing is the success of the program is easy to track and keep score on. In fact an effective program is constantly getting adjusted by the analytics inside the program. A popular television commercial which has a space shuttle changing colors, words and even mission in response to real-time analytics is not far from the truth of how a great program works.
    So the question becomes – is it time to launch your bar’s digital marketing “space shuttle?”
    The choice I will make to hang and stay or have a quick one and go, is driven by the menu. The difference is a $15 cover or a $60+ cover. I can’t remember the last time I parked in a living room bar and walked out with less then a $75 check and often it’s over $100. So what am I looking for? Small bites. The last thing I want to do is order a hamburger with a big pile of French fries. That’s all I can eat and when it comes I have to stop what I am doing – work or watching TV, and focus in on finishing my dinner. And then what – go back to the room? Give me lots of interesting small bite choices. Gourmet appetizers with small portions. And Salad is not an appetizer – it’s a dinner. Salad is not sharable when my associates or friends show up. Yes truffle fries are a small bite, as are meatballs, bruschetta, a fried and grilled calamari, shrimp, grilled asparagus, and tiny flatbreads. It does not need to just be cheeseballs and sliders. And two small sliders is better then a three large slider plate. The chef and other influencing forces will want to make great dinner plates, you have to force them look at everything on the menu as an appetizer serving. You can still have the dinner menu and offer it upon request, but the primary option you are selling is bar bites.
    Look at your beverage menu. Do you have wine by the glass and cocktail ladders? When everything on the cocktail list is $12 it feels like McDonalds. The ladders have to start at reasonable levels so I know my friends and associates have choice. There has to be a red and white wine at $9 or less – even if it’s a non name brand, then walk the customer up through choices in each category in $3+ increments. It’s okay to have a $20 glass of wine as long as you have a few ladder rungs below it that I can also choose from. Price your cocktails based on the liquors which are in it. I understand and expect a Woodford recipe is going to cost more than a Bulleit recipe.
    Happy Hour – An Unnecessary Gift
    Whenever my visit coincides with a happy hour period, I consider it a lucky bonus. But I don’t time my bar visit based on these promotion periods. Usually when I walk into a hotel bar I’m not even aware of the happy hour program and get introduced to it at the bar. I’m happy for the special price and then unhappy later when it costs more. Or I along with everyone else empties out of the bar at the end of the promotion period – because after all you programmed me into that decision. Successful bars are transitioning to spotlight promotion strategies that put an end to every drink for $6 or bar bites for $6. These are margin destroyer happy hour programs. They position specific high volume, unique food and drink offerings in the venue at super special pricing all the time. It’s about discounting what you want folks to remember you for, come back for and recommend their friends come and try. It’s a $7 prime rib sandwich, a $4 plum tomato bruschetta or the $8 Jalapeno Margarita that is the kind of promotion which gets customers sharing their experience and pulling more non hotel guests into the venue. You give me a living room type bar experience and a spotlight item program and you create the kind of amenity I will want to come back for as a hotel guest and you give yourself a shot at the windfall potential of nonhotel guest business volume.
    And Guess What – Non Hotel Guests Want the Same Experience
    When you set up a great bar/restaurant situation, the magnetic appeal that venue will have with nonhotel guests will deliver increased customer counts if you have an effective digital marketing program. You are not competing for the party crowd or the destination restaurant crowd. When I am home and not traveling on business, I seek out Living Room bar venues, the same venues I enjoy when traveling. It’s too hard to organize a group dinner – with reservations and pressure to all be on time and ordering and getting the dinner over with in the eyes of the server and hostess. I would much rather meet at the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara where I know we can find a corner somewhere relax and eat a small bite when hungry and have friends come and go as they need to. Celebrity chef restaurants and party bars can’t deliver that experience, but your living room bar can.
    So there it is – the secret formula. Create a Living Room Bar experience and watch your hotel guest capture rate and revenues grow exponentially. Then deploy a Digital Marketing Strategy and fill your bar with non hotel guests as well. It’s truly amazing what is possible. Successful hotel F&B operations executing Living Room bar concepts and pulling hotel and non hotel guests into it, are hitting $2+Min F&B revenues out of their living room bar/restaurant.
    Are you looking for web, mobile or digital marketing services ? contact us now.
    Emphatic blogger