Bad Girl, Good Business

Thirst for Knowledge: What’s New in Nightclubs & Bars?

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I was on a knowledge bender the past few days…

Like a cerebral bar mop, I soaked-up trends and savvy at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas. Although I can’t possibly cover everything I learned and saw, here are some of the highlights…the people, technologies, and  products that lead and transform the booze and nightlife business. It ain’t your momma’s pub anymore! (Find more about the history of the bar industry here.)

Beyond the Bartender…

I chatted with a wide range of professionals  who are stepping out from behind the bar (and the traditional office) to do exciting things. They are a friendly crew and they came from all over the world. Kathryn Leczel was a bartender who found an investor and is about to open her own establishment in Michigan. She was at the show to gather product ideas and business tips. I also chatted with Sheila Rosario, the Director of National Programs the United States Bartenders’ Guild, a grassroots organization that’s committed to bringing industry professionals together for learning, community-building, and fundraising. Belcario Thomas and his co-workers were driving traffic to the bars of Bermuda by sporting Bermuda shorts. Speaking of uniforms, Terra Saunders is the co-owner of Waitressville. Although some of their uniforms reveal lots of skin, she’s committed to designing and manufacturing attire that “covers the right parts” and fits women of all shapes and sizes.

I also learned a bit with some of the leaders of the industry like Kelley Jones and Jimmy Bernstein, who have turned business concepts into multi-location destinations.

But everyone has to start somewhere. I was super-impressed by the Johnson & Wales University students who volunteered at the Show. I sat with a few of them who were thrilled to get out of the classroom and see what actually goes on in the world they’re studying.

Other memorable people included two “accidental” bar owners — professionals in my workshop who inherited venues from their late parents. More on that in a future post. They both had interesting stories to tell.

Apps in Bars: Not Just Chicken Wings and Potato Skins

I’m talking applications, not appetizers. From inventory to ID-checking, lots of bar functions have been automated. Partender makes technology fun, and their booth is always packed with prospective customers. They recruit bartenders as their ambassadors in their booth. They’re a great example of humanizing technology and rocking the trade show floor!

Other stand-out tech-types include UpShow, which displays selfies on a bar’s own TV system, enabling guests to indulge their narcissism and supplying owners with data and a marketing boost. A win-win indeed! Bounc expedites ID checking and keeps establishments out of hot water for serving underage drinkers (but no one has yet built the robot to eject drunken patrons).

Bar-goers need cash and juice (power, not pineapple). Although I saw about ten companies displaying smart phone chargers, Chrgr has an interesting model, in that they are encouraging bars to sell their super-light (and branded) power packs to customers. Although the ATM in a bar is nothing new, Access One displayed a really cute and branded compact model.

Drinking Décor

The mechanical bull is alive and well, as is high-tech beer pong, super-charged trivia, and somewhat creepy talking “mascots.” No celebrity guests? No problem. Build-A-Head encourages revelers to pose as stars.

Whether someone owns a historic saloon or an over-the-top hookah bar, he’d be able to find something at the show that fit the vibe.

And Yes…There Were Libations

I wasn’t drinking this week, which made the show all the more intriguing, because I was focused exclusively on branding and presentation, as well as non-alcoholic mixers.

Peanut butter at a bar show??!! What a pleasant surprise. I’m a HUGE fan of PB2 (powdered peanut butter) because it has all that great nutty taste and is low in calories. (Plus, I would never eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon when I’m bored.) The company introduced a line of delicious gluten-free crackers (heart be still!) and came up with a recipe for using peanut butter powder as a martini garnish. I know I’m going on and on about this, but it’s just so freakin’ clever! A fantastic example of product line extensions and tapping into new market segments. We marketers get giddy about this stuff.

Kudos to Nickel Dime Syrups, Herb & Lou’s Infused Cubes, and Agave’D for their concepts and packaging. Boxed wine with a monkey mascot ( was simply bizarre (in a good way). It is, after all, the year of the monkey.

Fill Those Stools, Booths, and Dance Floors!

Many of the conference sessions and exhibitors were focused on driving more traffic and capturing data on current clientele. Hooch is a new app that combines the concept of an “exclusive drinking club” with free cocktails.

I also co-hosted/hosted sessions on using digital media and content marketing to attract customers.  Contact us and we’ll share our presentation highlights with you.

The Morning After…

I was given a sample of magic hangover cure powder (which , thankfully, I didn’t need). But one of the most useful gifts of the show was the box of under-eye skin lifters from ToGoSpa (like teeth whiteners for your face). They seemed to be a big hit, as I spotted many trade show visitors (men and women) proudly sporting as they walked the floor. The company did an awesome job of customer outreach too. They politely “Twitter-stalked” me before the show and, when I showed up at the booth in person, I was greeted with a big smile and a hug.

To quote the “Cheers” theme song, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came.”




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