Gimmicky bar promotions lack common sense

By Daniel Pagan

Promotions can make or break a popular nightclub, Sometimes you can tell that bar owners are really desperate to attract more patrons by the kind of promotions they do. Edmonton’s Union Hall is one such example. Some time ago, the Union Hall’s owners decided it was a good idea to offer free admission and $20 to students who came before 10 p.m. Thursdays. No strings attached, just show up and get your money. How can that go badly? What’s wrong with giving students free money for alcohol? It’s a disastrous idea that could blow up in bar owners’ faces like other questionable promotions in the past.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving organizers are upset, saying it encourages drunk driving. Who can blame them? Twenty bucks can cover enough booze to seriously intoxicate most people. Wasted people can be dangerous, especially if they start fighting or vandalizing property. Union Hall owners should prepare for things going really wrong. On the other hand, if students decide to not spend that money, they can just grab the cash and walk away. How could the owners compel students to spend their cash on alcohol when they could buy beer from the liquor store down the street instead or move to a cheap nightclub? That’s $20 spinning down the toilet bowl.

Union Hall’s free cash promotion is harmless enough compared to the city of Newcastle’s Attic bar’s “Trashed” drinking contest. Over in U.K., the bar offered shots of sambuca and tequila for 50 pence (about $0.85 CDN) before 11 p.m., with entry fees costing only one pound (about $1.70 CDN). At the end of the night, drinkers are given a breath test after which the most intoxicated gets free entrance the next week and those deemed sober enough to drive after the sobriety test get their money back. The bar ended up canceling the contest due to an outcry from the police who felt the bar was advocating drunk driving. In Alberta, it is illegal for bars and nightclubs to encourage binge drinking, with happy hour prices banned and minimum drink prices established. The aim of these law changes are to stem the rise of binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled fights. Imagine the outcry if an Alberta nightclub decided to follow the Attic’s lead.

In the city of sin, Las Vegas, the Jet Nightclub staged a contest in 2006 and 2007 where a lucky female patron could win up to $5,000 to spend on breast augmentation surgery. Women went from table to table in the nightclub, collecting “boob bucks,” a fictional currency, from the other patrons. The female who collected the most “boob bucks” won the money for the operation.

Bar promotion is very difficult, where you have to build business and encourage new patrons to check your nightclub for cheap drinks, attractive servers, a good location or just a good time. You have to be clever with media to grab peoples’ attention. In the risky business of serving alcohol and other intoxicants you have to contend with people, such as the police, the city council or the provincial government who can make your life difficult by arresting your patrons or making alcohol expensive. Let’s not forget the anti-drunk driving lobbyists and lawyers, like MADD who get upset if they suspect your advertisements are encouraging sexism or drunk driving. The Union Hall plan is suicidal, between legal prosecution and an economic disaster. Other bars gave up on similar promotions in the past, since it did nothing to attract new customers who stay to drink.

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