“Gilmore Girls” had Luke’s Diner, “Beverly Hills 90210” had The Peach Pit and “Cheers” had, well, Cheers. Even in our fantasy lives, we always gravitate toward the bar and restaurant scene. But who can blame us? It’s the place we go to celebrate sports championships, work promotions and engagements. Each bar and restaurant fosters a sense of solidarity for its patrons, and wouldn’t it be great to be a part of those communities?
Luckily, bars and restaurants are always in need of promotional products, and we spoke to those well-versed in the industry—Gayle Piraino, president of Gloucester, Massachusetts-based distributor GAP Promo; Gina Marie Vasoli, art and marketing manager for Philadelphia-based brewery Yards Brewing Company; and Michael Wambolt, proprietor and brewer for Philadelphia-based brewery Crime & Punishment Brewing Company—for the deep dish on how to get noticed by bars and restaurants.
When you make your pitch to a bar or restaurant, it’s important to first cover the basics. A bar or restaurant, at any stage, is always in need of the promotional necessities. For Piraino, there are some tried-and-true staples in the industry. Promotions she suggested are table tents, condiment caddies, napkin holders, glassware, bottle openers and beer buckets, uniforms, tap handles, coasters, rail mats and flight trays.
For Wambolt, those standard promotional products can even raise brand awareness and increase customer retention outside the walls of Crime & Punishment.
“When we donate items, we usually include a T-shirt, glass, growler and gift card,” he said. “A T-shirt is a way to promote the brand outside of the brewery, a glass is something an individual will remember you by at home, and a growler and gift card get people to come back for more.”
From there, it’s on you to get creative. Most bars and restaurants are more than willing to roll with a great idea.
“We offer apparel, glassware, beer accessories [and] décor,” Vasoli said. “[We also offer] specialty items like premium luggage, coolers, corn hole sets and Patagonia jackets.”
The ideal promotional strategy is to stock your clients with the classics, but keep the end-users talking with the more exclusive promotions. “Since we are quite small, we haven’t really been able to work much outside of the basic realm of glassware and T-shirts,” Wambolt said. “We do have a cassette tape label that I believe is pretty unique to us, and I once collaborated with a soap maker for some beer soap.”
Aside from your fundamental and creative promotions, functional promotions are always crowd-pleasers for the bar and restaurant space.
“One of our large corporate beer clients wanted to promote their product in Put-In-Bay, Ohio,” Piraino said. “They utilized our cooler bags for a special summer promotion. We branded ‘Red Stripe’ on the bags and highlighted a deal to buy six [beverages] and get a free cooler tote at the local bars. The tote was a huge success, as it made it easy to go from purchase to event to enjoyment, for the consumer—all while boosting sales for our client.”
Finally, if a prospective client is looking to cut costs, there are several “investment pieces” Piraino suggested that will cut costs in the long-run, like point-of-sale signage, clocks, permanent fixtures.
It’s important to remember that while creativity counts, the client also wants you to understand the company’s brand. For Piraino, it’s these creative client relationships that can make a distributor top-of-mind with bars and restaurants.
“Following through with quality products and impactful design that truly represents the clients vision will allow [distributors] to stand out in the promotional marketplace,” she said.
Because when it comes down to it, the end-users enjoy the promotional products that connect them to the brand, itself. “Promotional items give people a physical reminder of their experience with Yards,” Vasoli said. “I think people also like to represent the brand they feel connected to. Someone may choose to buy a Brawler T-shirt because they love the beer, but they might like wearing it to parties and family functions because of what it says about them.
Remember: Stick to the brand.
“Right now, our motto is, ‘Keep it simple,’” Vasoli continued. “We don’t take any crazy detours from our beer branding because we know people like what’s on (and in) the bottle.”
Wambolt agreed that consistent branding is essential.
“Our branding and design work is unique to us,” he said. “When you see the logo or any of our designs or characters, you know that it’s from Crime & Punishment.”
“Our most popular items are our T-shirts,” Wambolt added. “I think our unique logo is the reason why. Most breweries can come across, especially in their branding, as quite masculine. I like to say that our logo has a more feminine touch to it that allows for it to sell well for both men and women.”
Once a prospective client sees you’re on the same page in terms of the promotional vision, you need to demonstrate that you’ll put the client first.
“We are loyal to the manufacturers who serve us well,” Vasoli said. “That means prompt, reliable customer service, quality products, and reasonable production and delivery windows. We also value vendors who are willing to work with special requests. For instance, we are beginning a transition to all USA-made shirts and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Our shirt [provider] has been working diligently to provide us with the best selection at competitive prices, so we can meet this new goal.”
You want to show the client that you truly care about the business relationship.
“Get to know every person and brand, regardless of the size of the account,” Piraino said. “Be involved on a personal level with their brand and be a customer.”