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There is a lot that goes into making a great wine bar – including location, décor, clientele, and of course, the wine list. But just having a great location or a great wine list is not enough - you also have to market that wine bar successfully in the marketplace. That can be especially challenging, especially in a hyper-competitive market like New York, Las Vegas, Chicago or San Francisco where it can be hard to stand out. The good news, though, is that there are a number of tried-and-true marketing tactics that you can use to improve your visibility and presence in the marketplace.
Not all wine bar customers are created alike. That might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many wine bars market to their customers without taking into account the various demographics and customer segments involved. For example, you might have the “after work crowd” from nearby businesses, who stop by for Happy Hour wine specials. You might have a group of young millennials who enjoy hanging out at your wine bar on nights and weekends. And you might have a core group of wine enthusiasts who stop by for wine tastings and special wine events.
Thus, for each of those customer segments, you need to think of unique marketing promotions that will appeal to each of them. For the Happy Hour crowd, for example, you might offer some of your premium or limited edition wines, as a way of making your wine bar stand out from the competition. For the young millennial crowd, you might play up the opportunity to sample wines from up-and-coming wine regions, or to participate in wine flight events. And for your core group of wine enthusiasts - the important group of wine drinkers who are willing to pay more for expensive bottles of wine - you can offer VIP tasting events and chances to meet local winemakers.
Segmenting your clientele, though, does not mean trying to be all things to all people. You are not trying to turn your wine bar into a spot for everyone. Rather, you are trying to tailor what you do - offering the very best selection of wines - to exactly the types of people who will appreciate it.
Another way to really stand out from the crowd is to put a clever, creative twist on tried-and-true marketing promotions. One of the easiest ways to do that is with your Happy Hour specials. For example, the Corkbuzz wine bar in New York’s Union Square neighborhood is known for conducting a “blind tasting happy hour.” Other wine bars choose to focus on offering wines that people might not otherwise be trying. Instead of Chardonnay from France, in other words, why not a Gruner Veltliner from Austria? Instead of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, why not a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State?
It helps to take a broad, macro-level view of the local wine ecosystem. Think of your wine bar as being part of a dynamic, vibrant ecosystem that continually needs to be nourished. One way to do that is by running cross-promotions with local wine shops and vineyards. This has several key advantages. For one, it helps local winemakers and local wine businesses. The same wines that a young millennial wine drinker enjoys at your wine bar might be the inspiration to stop by a privately owned retail wine store in the area.
And, of course, there are plenty of benefits for yourself in these cross-promotional opportunities, too. As a result of your marketing efforts, you may get access to exclusive wines, to private labels, or to discounted prices. This has several advantages for your wine bar, simply from a marketing and branding perspective. Your wine bar will become known as the place to go to sample hand-selected bottles from all over the world.
Wine is unique from other products in that customers have a natural interest in learning as much as possible about wines, wine regions, winemakers, and winemaking techniques. Any of these aspects can be used as part of a very targeted marketing campaign. For example, once you’ve established a relationship with local winemakers, you can then invite them to host VIP educational seminars. Or, you can ask your sommelier or wine director to host events for the broader public, in order to educate them about the wine industry.
There are different ways to think about tastings. Of course, you can use them as a way to serve your clientele. Maybe your customers have been asking you about a certain wine trend. These tastings might be a way to educate them about these trends.
However, there are other advantages to hosting lots of tastings. You can use feedback from these events for insights into how to stock your wine list. In fact, some wine bars host seasonal tasting parties, where they use information and insights gathered to guide them in the construction of their wine list.
And don’t overlook the role of tastings in building community. Most likely, people will choose to attend tastings with someone else they already know, and most likely, with a group of people. This has a strong multiplier effect for your business. And, as these tastings catch on as a popular activity to attend, you also build “buzz” for your business.
Wine bar owners are different from traditional bar owners, in that they are usually more averse to offering the same types of mass-market promotions that bars offer. A special Super Bowl party, for example, is probably better enjoyed in a more raucous bar environment. But that doesn’t mean that you need to skip theme nights altogether. There are some tried-and-true classics - such as ladies nights and singles nights - that work very well within the wine bar concept.
Wine flights are a great way to get people to sample a number of wines, all with the same basic characteristics. They could be especially valuable in reaching the millennial demographic, which is open to the idea of “discovering” new wines and being the first to know about new varietals and new winemaking techniques.
It’s also important to think about ways that you can use food to enhance your wine bar offerings. There’s a good business reason here, of course: people are more likely to consume more wine when they are also eating food. For that reason, many wine bars use cheese plates, charcuterie and antipasto as key selling points of any wine tasting. Yes, you have the initial upfront costs of these food plates, but you more than make it up with additional wine sales.
Finally, think about all the ways that you can leverage social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest - to build buzz for your wine bar. The best part about social media marketing is that it is largely free. It’s free to set up a Facebook or Instagram account, for example. Running ads on these platforms does cost additional money - but the best part about social media advertising is that you can completely customize it to a particular demographic.
So, let’s say that you operate a wine bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York - you could easily run hyper-targeted Facebook ads that will only reach those Facebook users who live within a mile of Greenwich Village, and who have already indicated on Facebook that they enjoy wine. You could go one step further, in fact, and hone in on only those New Yorkers who live near Greenwich Village who also enjoy Tuscan wines, or who only enjoy Sicilian wines. At some point, you will have to decide just how deep and wide you want to go - you’re going to reach a much larger audience of potential patrons by appealing to those who “like” wine, rather than trying to get super-granular and reach those who “like” Sicilian wine!
One of the best aspects of social media is that it has become such an intensely visual medium. This makes it much easier to highlight the unique look, feel or décor of your wine bar. And you can do more than just highlight the bottles of wine on your wine list - you can also post photos of people enjoying the convivial atmosphere, or photos of recent tastings and VIP events. You could also highlight the owner of the wine bar, the sommelier, the wine director or the serving staff. And it’s not just photos, either. You can also post short video clips that show your wine bar in action on a typical night. With Twitter, you could send out weekly promotions and highlight news about your wine bar.
Marketing your wine bar doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive or challenging. But it does take a little advance planning to consider which aspects of your wine bar experience you want to highlight, as well as how to make your wine bar experience “come alive” for different customer segments. Over time, you’ll learn what works - and what doesn’t - and come up with a marketing campaign that has people coming by every week to see what’s new.