How to Make Your Independent Bar or Restaurant Stand Out With Millennials

Want to attract a younger crowd to your independent bar or restaurant? Read on to see how.

What millennials want from a night out

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve decided that you want to attract a younger crowd to your restaurant or bar. Makes sense, as a study conducted by found that more than half of all millennials surveyed eat out at least five times a week and go to a bar on a weekly basis. This should be a good thing, right? There’s just one catch: The trend is changing. Millennials and Gen-z are also starting to leave the house less than ever. As more options become available with mobile food and liquor order, quick delivery, and fast food, it means that they’re ordering in more and going out less. To add insult to injury, when they do leave the house, they’re probably going to be more cost conscious. As the owner of an independent bar or restaurant, what does this all mean for you? It means the battle for the younger generations’ attention and share of wallet is fiercer than ever. You need to clearly articulate the experience you offer your patrons and how you stand out from the rest. It isn’t enough to offer a traditional happy hour and cheap draft beer and hope for the best. You have to coax out the netflix generation with a unique experience they can’t get at home. So how do we go about doing that?

Why don’t we start by putting ourselves in their shoes and looking at a night out from their perspective.

As a typical millennial or Gen-Z customer,  when you’re deciding that you want a night out, the first thing you’re going to ask yourself is what kind of experience you’re looking for. There are typically three main buckets we can put most restaurants, bars, and nightclubs into:

Are you a party environment?

Most night clubs fit into this category. Young people are going to these venues for one reason; meet new people, have fun, drink alcohol, and party. Your venue is going to be chosen based on the music you play, the DJs/musicians you feature, the aesthetic of your venue, and the atmosphere. As an establishment that offers this type of experience, your profitability as a business is solely determined by cover charge and your drink margins. 

Are you a chill, social environment? 

As a social venue, your patrons want to connect. They want to go out with friends, meet new people, and have lots of room to walk around and mingle with other tables. Live bands can be great, and fun games like pool, an arcade, darts, and skeeball can be a great way to promote fun. A dry erase board with a witty slogan can be inviting, or that communicates the night’s events: trivia, game night, etc. As a social venue, you have the most flexibility. You can have a diverse and creative drink menu with a good mix of high margin cocktails and traditional draft beers and liquor. The important thing as a social venue is doing everything you can to promote connection. recommends tapping into the mobile friendly and digital realities of a younger demographic. “Young people like restaurant brands trying new things and integrating technology into the customer experience to make it easier, quicker and smoother. You can make it easier to browse your website and your menu on people’s mobile devices. The right restaurant text message marketing strategy will also help you to reach more young people and get your marketing messages across to them in a direct way that’s impossible to ignore.”

Are you low cost and high volume?

Sometimes, young people just want a no-frills place to get drunk with their friends on the cheap. This is where dive bars and pubs shine. These locations might even be where many young people go before or after visiting one of the aforementioned bar styles. Low cost establishments, your patrons care more about specials, and they may go out of their way to go to your location for a particular special.

For example, Colony bar in Vancouver offers $3 beers on Tuesdays, and they’re usually packed because of it. The trick with these promotions is making them so ridiculously attractive that people can barely believe it. Young people are especially keen on these promotions because they’re willing to forgo pretty much anything for an affordable reason to go out. The goal is then to offer them higher margin drinks and food once they get their foot in the door, and promoting those heavily. This can be an extremely effective strategy when done effectively.

For price-sensitive customers,
Posist also recommends incorporating a loyalty program. For high-volume locations targeting a growing customer base that visits your bar frequently but does not spend much, they recommend running a visit-based loyalty rewards program. 

"..the only way to find your ideal niche is to try things out. Once you’ve done the proper research your communication strategy at the audience that you think would be most receptive."

Are you upscale and intimate?

Last but not least, we have an upscale bar. This type of bar generally appeals to a slightly older audience with more disposable income. The main experience you offer your patrons here is the feeling of luxury, class, and sophistication. goes so far as to say “Above all, customers want a bar that is intimate and personal. By including unique items on your menu or creating small, intimate conversation areas throughout your bar, you can make sure that your establishment stands out from the rest.” Your patrons want to come here because they feel “in” and can impress their dates. They use your location to tell a story about themselves and who they are. The number of customers and the volume of drinks they order is going to be much smaller with an upscale menu which means you need high per-drink margins and you need to charge luxury prices for luxury drinks.

An upscale bar, building customer loyalty is more important than for any other establishment type. A typical customer may stop by for a quick drink after work, an evening date, or when taking clients out for a drink. Focus on delivering exceptional customer service and showing your patrons you know them and care about them.

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Key Takeaways


When thinking about a strategy to attract new clientele in your chosen niche, Indoor media, an advertising firm, suggests the following steps: 

  1. Defining and marketing your restaurant’s niche is all about researching what already exists in your market.
  2. Filling in the gaps. 
  3. Understanding why those gaps exist.
  4. Strategically picking the best opportunity.

Remember, building a loyal customer base takes time. Bar and restaurant magazine interviewed Sameer Qureshi, CEO of New York City-based Royale Marketing who leaves us with some sage advice: Because a niche can be so specific and so small, owners may feel as though their efforts are being ignored. But Qureshi says not letting a project mature especially with niche marketing is the biggest mistake owners can make. “With niche marketing you are not reaching out to the masses. You are targeting a certain client and that requires traction to be built over time and not overnight,”

Don’t be afraid to experiment either.
Frucosol, a catering business says: “…the only way to find your ideal niche is to try things out. Once you’ve done the proper research and know which market you want to target, try new marketing strategies. Target your communication strategy at the audience that you think would be most receptive. If, after a couple of months of targeting the selected niche, you don’t see any results, don’t be afraid to start over. Finding the right market requires perseverance. Try to be more creative and find a niche where you have a competitive advantage.”


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