Friday, July 24, 2009

The Wrong Way to Promote a Bar.

About 25 years ago, before most of the patrons of Uncle Fatty’s Rum Resort (2833 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago) were born, activists such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began to raise awareness about the innocent victims of alcohol abuse. Laws were changed to stiffen penalties and improve enforcement. Minds were changed too. Fear of arrest and loss of their driver’s license was the sole motivation for some, but others had their consciousness raised.

Today, some of the activists have gone too far, veering into neo-Prohibitionism, but much of what they did was long overdue and beneficial. The problem hasn’t gone away, but attitudes now are much different than they were back then.

Among those who changed were the purveyors of alcoholic beverages. Some of it was forced on them, but not all. Many common promotion practices were toned down voluntarily.

The new paradigm was to promote in ways that did not encourage over-consumption of alcohol. Rather than promoting Happy Hour with two-for-one drinks, it was promoted with free nachos. Promote fun, not alcohol, the thinking went, and recognize that people rarely need their arms twisted to drink.

What’s more, whenever alcohol purveyors (whether they be producers or retailers) compete on the basis of who can put the most alcohol into the greatest number of people for the lowest price, everybody loses. (e.g., nickel beer night.)

The distinction can be subtle, but there are ways to give consumers an incentive to spend money on your product or at your place without encouraging them to drink too much.

Even outside the world of alcohol, promotions that seem to urge consumers to engage in unhealthy activities have become unfashionable. “All you can eat” fish fries are now “all you care to eat.” The problem, people realized, wasn’t the fixed-price nature of the offer, it was the implied challenge, the dare. “All you can eat” is interpreted by too many people as “how much can you eat, anyway?” They rationalize that the only way to “get their money’s worth” is to stuff themselves sick.

Alcohol, of course, ups the ante.

So I was surprised to read about Uncle Fatty’s “World’s Largest Indoor Bar Crawl,” from 6 PM to 9 PM on Saturday, August 1, “featuring five separate bars each serving specialty drinks in a combined space that spans 8,000 square-feet. The cost is $30 per person for the three hour all-you-can drink package.”

There are those dreaded words, in the bar’s official press release, “all-you-can drink.” (There seems to be a hyphen missing, but that’s the least of it.)

I’m sure Uncle Fatty’s will say they do not encourage overconsumption, so why use that loaded phrase? It just seems to be asking for trouble.

Then there’s this: “All of ‘The World’s Largest Indoor Bar Crawl’ participants will be given a punch card. If they successfully get a drink from each of the five bars, they will receive a FREE ‘Cooler Service’ -- 12 domestic beers served in an iced-down cooler -- on their next visit.”

‘Cooler Service’ is a clever, downscale variation on the ‘bottle service’ offered by high end night clubs, which has been criticized because it makes it harder to monitor each patron’s consumption, which establishments that serve alcohol are legally required to do.

The simplest statement of an alcohol seller’s legal obligation is, “don’t sell alcohol to someone who is drunk.” If you do, the penalties can be severe. Bartenders, servers, even liquor store cashiers, receive special training to make sure they understand this law and their obligations under it.

Nothing about Uncle Fatty’s “World’s Largest Indoor Bar Crawl” appears to be illegal, just the opposite. It crosses a line regarding what is ultimately enlightened self-interest. Make the patrons collect a trinket from the bartender at each bar, and give them a T-shirt instead of more beer. “Drinks included” says what you need to say without the provocation of “all-you-can-drink.” Make it about saving money and having fun. There is no danger that anyone will forget there is alcohol available.


backdeckjeff said...

This sounds like it should be offered to ANYONE riding the Space Shuttle...Is it wrong that I'm more offended by the missing hyphen? (But I'll definitely stay out of Lincoln Park that evening!)

Going Like Sixty said...

Interesting. But bars aren't the sharpest when it comes to marketing are they.

If all-you-can-drink brings them in, then what is their inducement to change?

I agree and it was a thoughtful post, but like peeing into a fan.
You'll feel better, but there are drawbacks.

Rob K said...

I think "on their next visit" is significant. It sounds like they don't get the cooler that night, but the next time they come in. It seems reasonable to me.