How to Launch a Successful Event Series at Your Restaurant

To your customers, a successful event series at your restaurant will just seem like a great time. It will be the Tuesday night trivia that brings them back to see their friends week after week for camaraderie and competition. Or it will be the monthly open-mic karaoke where they try to leave with at least one new phone number and sides that ache from laughing.

To your restaurant, though, a successful event series is more than a good time. It might be integral to your entire business. Instead of a slow night on the calendar, you can draw dozens of people for hours at a time. You can staff and stock the shifts knowing roughly how many covers will be arriving for the shift. And you can essentially create an entire crowd of regulars who invite their friends to join them. It’s like a loyalty program crossed with a party. What’s not to love?

Ongoing events offer your customers something exciting — yet predictable! — that keeps them coming back each week or every third Wednesday of the month, whatever cadence works for you. Virtual and hybrid events have been a lifeline since the early pandemic, and those should be part of your lineup of restaurant events.

But as you develop more in-person events — your burlesque showcases, your storytelling slams, your Monday Night Football soirees, your Sunday afternoon speed-dating, your jazz nights, your board game afternoons, your dog-adoption Saturday brunches, your standup comedy, your live podcast tapings, your drag brunches, your Nintendo Switch tournaments, your Irish trad jam sessions, your monthly Bollywood screenings, your boozy science lectures, your darts club, your Scrabble meet-ups, and so on and so on — consider this quick guide on how to make them a success.

Hold true to your restaurant’s core concept

Whatever event you choose, it should fit the vibe and clientele of your restaurant. Of course you can play around or experiment a bit. Just don’t baffle your customers with a mismatch. If you’re a sultry eatery known for upscale cocktails and small plates, maybe a rowdy trivia night isn’t your jam.

“The ongoing events have to make sense conceptually and be aligned to the restaurant,” says Yong Shin, the chef and partner at Insa, a Korean BBQ restaurant and karaoke bar in Brooklyn. “We were willing to try something different in more desperate times to utilize our vast space that would draw in more guests on the less busy weekday. But game night wasn't as aligned in concept as we would've liked, and didn't bring the extra revenue in as we would hope.”

One-off nights around huge-appeal events such as the Super Bowl or the Oscars might be exceptions to this rule. But Yong cautions operators not to overspend on the one-off events. They’re more likely to be financially successful if they integrate into a longer pattern or series of events — if your bar is known for weekend football specials or for screenings that routinely attract movie buffs, for instance.

Lean into your event's theme

Are you throwing an event? Or are you throwing an event? Let people know you’ve committed to the bit. Change table covers, throw on weird lighting, match the playlist to the vibes of the night. Signal to your customers that the restaurant will absolutely match the energy and dedication they bring.

Take Shuffle, a shuffleboard bar and restaurant in Tampa. Weekly shuffleboard league nights have elevated it from a place centered on idle play to one where people arrive ready for battle — and know they’ll bump into all their best friends. Shuffle keeps the league going season after season, and people keep coming back for the party.

“A Wednesday or Thursday is not to be missed,” Shuffle co-owner Danielle O’Connor says. “Family members know it’s your night out and the loyalty is fierce, as is the competition and smack-talking (all in good fun of course). It’s created a new family, new friends, even engagements.”

Get the word way out 

Conducting regular events is also a great way to generate new buzz about your restaurant. It’s a new conversation to get out there. Make sure that you take to social media and promote our restaurant’s new series both before and after your event. Depending on the nature of your event, specific Facebook groups, press outlets, or calendar pages might run or share a blurb. During the event itself, snap photos, thank folks for coming out, and encourage customers and staff to tag themselves in your posts, to get the word out organically. Inviting a social media influencer to attend can be a savvy way to get more eyes on the event.

These promotions have an amplifying effect that can confer huge benefits to your business. Just ask Freddy’s Bar whose owners say their establishment has seen an overall bump as the music and burlesque and comedy scenes the bar hosts cross-pollinate. They’ve now made event planning the centerpiece of their content marketing, re-upping promos from the diverse range of performers who command their own social media audiences and attracting new customers to the South Park Slope space.

“The most interesting (and inspiring) part of these events is the resulting shift in customer demographics,” says Tracey McTague, the events concierge at Freddy’s. “It’s more representative of what has always made NYC an amazing city: its queerness, its racial diversity, and its non-conformity.”

Book acts you can trust

This may go without saying, but do your research before you book an act. Check out their social media pages, read the reviews, call other establishments where they’ve worked or performed. The fastest way to kill an ongoing event is a no-show. Anyone you’re hosting and promoting has to be able to represent the brand of your entire business.

Support your event series even if it starts slowly 

If you want your event to take off, give it some time to find its rhythm. Not everything can go gangbusters on Day 1. Post signage around your restaurant, get loud on your social media channels, let everyone know what’s up. When the first night of cowboy poetry or red wine book club or paint-and-sip happy hour attracts all of six people, video the heck out of it and blow it up on TikTok all the same. Then keep leaning in.

Insa’s open mic night karaoke blows the doors off its front bar every month. You wouldn’t know by seeing it now that it took a while to gain its momentum.

“Consistency is key but it doesn't mean it will work right away,” says Shin. “We've been hosting open mic karaoke at the bar for a couple of years but only recently has it become a popping late night business for us. We have regulars who come for this and always see new groups and faces. Karaoke is now a third significant revenue stream that makes us stand out as a restaurant concept."

[Photo by Bruno Cervera on Unsplash]