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How to Draw a Crowd on Game Day

By Piet E. Jones

The “big game” isn’t just one night in February. Whether it’s pro or college football, basketball, hockey, or baseball playoffs, big games can have a big impact on your restaurant’s business. So, how do you make sure your customers are happy regardless of if their favorite team is home or away?

big game nachosPregame or Overtime?
First, ask yourself if people are coming through before the game or after. If they’re stopping in for a quick bite and a drink beforehand, make sure that they can make it to the stadium on time. For that, an express menu is the ticket. Offer a few different options, perhaps at a special price, that you know your staff can turn around quickly.  

Don’t forget that there’s also an opportunity after the game. Fans leaving the game may want to let traffic die down, or they could be celebrating a big win or drowning their sorrows after loss. You may be in for a second rush, but simply being open won’t cut it.  You need a hook: maybe an offer for reduced-price appetizers or snacks for anyone with a ticket stub from the game. Nothing wrong with a late-night drink special to get them in the door either, as long as your local alcohol control board permits it.

Road Games
When the local team hits the road, it might be time to turn those big screens on and offer the same specials. But be mindful of the main dining room. The last thing you want is for tables of loud patrons sitting for several hours without turning them over. Directing fans to the bar or, even better, a private area where you can contain their enthusiasm allows you to host a long party without disrupting your usual service.

If tailgating is on the menu, make sure to-go is in your game plan. Not every fan can compete with those amazing pregame spreads out there. For them, a party pack-- all the food and fixings for 4 or 8 people-- might just be the ticket. You could even tailor the menu to the team. Food Network reminds us that many schools have signature tailgating dishes, some of which might already be on your menu. From fried chicken for Ole Miss, to beer brats for the University of Wisconsin, even gumbo for LSU, there’s a food that embodies the team and its fans.

Building a Game Planbig game sliders
How do you get those fans through your doors? Fortunately, we live in the age of social media and all those hungry, and thirsty, fans are just a few clicks away. Targeted advertising is one method. Create an ad promoting your restaurant and the big game, then use the right keywords to make sure the right audience sees it. If you can, use the team or mascot name. You can also search Facebook for local alumni groups and reach out to them. Advertise party pack preorders on your page and have them ready to go so fans can pick them up on the way to the game. Social media is often easier, more effective, and cheaper than print advertising.

Upon Further Review...

Some restaurants, though, simply aren’t the right venue for sports fans. But the games may still affect your business. If you’re close to the venue, traffic and parking might be a problem. Offering valet to avoid losing diners is one option. You might also consider arranging offsite parking for your staff and using a van to shuttle them back and forth to free up limited spots – which may also build employee goodwill by allowing them to avoid parking issues themselves. And don’t forget to advertise, especially to customers looking to avoid sporting events. Offer food and drink specials to help attract those diners who aren’t fans.

The big game can be a big deal to a restaurant. It can make for a huge night or leave you staring at an empty dining room. A little planning, smart use of social media and keywords, and appealing to people’s school and civic pride can go a long way towards ensuring you win the night.