9 Ways a Campus Bar Can Rise to Greatness

Things have been getting too serious around here lately with summer job articles and saving money on this or that.  I thought we’d look at something a little more in line with what I was worried about when I was 18 – the Campus Bar.

Now in my experience (limited to 5 official “campus bars” and another 2 bars that were located just off campus) a fair number of adult beverage-serving establishments seem to mess up what would seem like a bulletproof business niche: selling booze to newly legal adults – many of whom are away from home for the first time in their lives.  Hollywood has already done your marketing for you with their gross distortion of what sort of lifestyle the “actual” post-secondary student looks like, all you have to do as a bar is simply play to the stereotype.  Here are nine things to look for at your campus bar (an underrated factor in picking your institution of higher learning):

1) Cheap Drinks

9 Ways a Campus Bar Can Rise to Greatness
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Let’s be honest here, young students aren’t exactly hard to please.  While they may like to pretend and talk like they are wine, beer, and whiskey connoisseurs, the ultimate decision on whether or not to go to a bar rests on the hit it will place on their bank account.  I’ve seen a few campus joints price themselves right out of their market when trying to raise profit margins that simply weren’t sustainable.  Keep it simple, sell more by selling for less.

Related: Save Money on Parties

2) Great Theme Nights

“The music here sucks”

“Man, I love this techno stuff”

A great DJ once said, “You can please some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the annoying wannabes all the time”.  The bottom line is that you are never going to play “good music” in the eyes of all types.  Some people go to the bar to two-step (shout out to Aggies everywhere), some go to groove to filthy beats, and others like tunes a little more out of the mainstream.  With something so subjective, the best you can hope for is to appeal to certain niches or groups on different nights in order to maximize your potential client base.  You’re more than likely going to have to surrender Thursday and/or Friday to basic pop music, but other than that, keep it fresh and different.

3) Find Good Help – Charismatic, Competent and Attractive Staff

Admittedly it is hard to find all of these qualities in the form of one staff member.  It’s fairly easy to find someone with one of these three characteristics, but too often the first two get sacrificed in order to maximize the third.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Someone who is easy on the eyes but can’t bartend efficiently (an underrated skill) and banter back and forth gives people a bad impression.  From a student’s standpoint, once you find a bartender or server that hits this hat trick, then remember to ask for them repeatedly.

4) Friendly Bouncers That Know What They’re Doing

Bouncers get their own category since their presence and job description is so different from that of the rest of the staff.  The primary consideration for a bouncer should not be if they can crack a skull – it should be if they can stitch themselves up and carry their medical records with them at all times (that was a Roadhouse reference for you kids out there who didn’t know there was a universe before Game of Thrones).  Seriously though, if your bouncers are merely muscle-bound meatheads who can’t problem solve very basic conflicts that often arise as a result of lowered inhibitions, then your establishment is going to have some major problems.  I’ve actually done a little bit of bouncing, and found that some very common sense proactive techniques solved things about 98% percent of the time.  If bouncers are assertive but friendly from the moment someone walks in the door, they will set a much more fun mood and will be able to get a sense of any trouble before it explodes.  Unfortunately “good bouncers” are extremely difficult to find, while muscle-bound meatheads are a dime-a-dozen.

5) A D-Floor That Isn’t Too Big, Not Too Small… Just Right

Depending on the size of your campus (and your on-campus housing situation) the number of patrons that visit the campus bar will vary.  The best case scenario for encouraging hedonistic bliss is a packed piece of wood where everyone feels that they are hiding the actions they want to be sly about, yet are still able to move without being crushed or suffocated.  There must be an engineer out there somewhere that has figured out the premium formula for a perfect dance floor using inputs such as time of evening, maximum capacity, alcohol consumed per customer, style of music/dance being emphasized, and how many rhythm-challenged patrons (re: white guys) the crowd includes.

6) Weird Crap From Sports Alumni Hanging Everywhere

One of the reasons sports is so popular is the fact that we love to vicariously live through our favorite sports teams.  Seeing the starting running back’s jersey hanging from the rafters allows students to bask in the glow of someone else’s achievements.  While you’re busy destroying your body, you want to feel good about what someone on your campus us doing – and hey you could have probably done that stuff too if not for that major injury (rolled ankle) back in 8th great when they were scouting for the JV squad right?

7) Good Marketing – Especially to Residences

The first thing anyone notices when they go to a bar is if other people are there.  If there is no line and there seems to be too much space inside, then human instinct kicks in and lets people know that others of their species do not find the area appealing, so they should not as well.  This herd mentality is a powerful phenomenon, and it is one that every bar tries to channel in order to keep positive momentum going.  Fortunately for campus establishments there is a huge market of patrons waiting right on your doorstep.  If you can get the hundreds of students that live a short walk from your doors to provide the initial lineup and/or “bar fillers” every night, then it will become much easier to round up the rest of the herd and convince them that since others think it is cool, it must be where the ever-elusive “it” is at.

Related: Friends, Family, Freedom, and Free Beer: A Balancing Act

8) Decent – If Colon-Killing – Eats

A great campus bar is not only great two nights a week.  No, a well-run C.B. should also serve as a central meeting hub during the week for faculty and students.  The food doesn’t have to be healthy (although if it is – even better) or fancy, but it does have to hit those pleasure centres of your brain that are stimulated by the proper ratios of fat and salts.  Whether you’re eating to celebrate a success, forget a failure, or are merely too lazy to cook, a campus bar has to deliver the goods.

**Note from Justin – The bar is sitting empty during the day, might as well fill it up with people and sell food. But instead of targeting students, target the staff who work on campus. Staff members have more money than students and you won’t be draining money from your evening clientele.

9) Know How to Treat Your Regulars

Ok, so I’m a bit bias here being that I frequented my campus bar way too often as far as my physical and financial health were concerned.  Here’s the reason why regulars are so important to your business.  Over the course of my three year undergraduate degree alone I probably dumped about 4-5K into the tills at my campus bar.  That’s straight cash homey.  Let your main crew know you appreciate them by giving them the odd discount and always making sure they don’t have to wait in line.  If they are cool about tipping, make sure they get their ego pumped a little – after all, every 20-year old likes to think they’re a high roller even if they do have a case of empty Carlings back in their dorm room.

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