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6 Halloween Ideas for your Bar or Pub

With summer pretty much over, most bars tend to go back to relying on sporting events and their usual live music acts, or drink deals to get punters through the doors on the lead up to Christmas.  With one main exception: Halloween – here’s some ideas to make the most of halloween in your pub.

Halloween has been a big deal in the US for over half a century, but over the last few decades it’s made waves in Europe and of course, the UK. Despite only being one night long, many bars tend to maximize the potential of the occasion by making almost a week out of it.  After all, if you’re going to the trouble of putting up spooky decorations, carving pumpkins and encouraging your bar staff into wearing skeleton suits, you’re going to want to make the most of it!

Halloween falls on a Monday in 2022, so it makes sense to have festivities going from Thursday through to the end of Monday night.

1. Decorate the bar

Probably the most obvious way to celebrate Halloween in your bar is to decorate the place.  If you’re low on time or cash, a few cobwebs, plastic bats and other knicknacks probably won’t set you back too much.  Staff usually welcome the activity with wide-eyed excitement and it can be a great way of making them feel like part of a team.

If you want a little bit more customer interaction, you can run competitions where they can win a moderate bar tab for the best carved pumpkin competition.  Make sure you share photos on your social media and encourage your guests to share them as well.

Have a think about the lighting too and how you could maximize that to show off all your decorations and make the bar feel extra spooky.

A more experimental approach would be to contact local universities, art groups or art schools and see if they have any gothic projects ongoing.  This might require a few hours of intense Google-searching, social media contacts and phone calls, but in the process you might build some long-term relationships.

 

2. Use costumes

Another classic Halloween tradition is dressing up.   You might want to start with the staff and either let them come up with their own ideas, or give them a theme to dress to – vampires, zombies, pirates are all good go-tos.   These three tend to be easy enough to pull off as they don’t require too much beyond raggy old clothes, a little bit of makeup and fake blood.  Of course, if your bar is themed already, you might want to lean into it.  Irish bar?  Celtic legends!  LGTB?  Zombie drag!  Just make sure your staff are comfortable and let them have fun.

After that, encourage customers to participate with own costumes, and just like with lanterns, running a costume competition with a bar tab can give the whole bar a great buzz.  People boogieing in their film or video game-inspired costumes can provide a whole load of thrills, all whilst providing some great shots for Instagram and other platforms.

 

3. Theme your menu

Halloween provides an opportunity to try out some fun cocktail ideas.  Maybe you’ve got blood coloured beverages with cranberry juice or blood oranges, or smokey potions which look like they’re straight out of a witches cauldron.  Ask your head bartender to think up some great beverages, or have a quick Google and figure out what cocktails will turn the best profit based on your existing stocks and those which are easy to obtain.  Don’t forget the fun of thematic garnishing -little plastic (reusable!) spiders, cobwebs and whatever else comes to mind can make drinks pop.

The night itself is slap bang in the middle of Autumn and so it’s a great time to get those autumnal flavours out – cinnamon, sage, apple, salted caramel, pear, and of course the modern day classic – pumpkin spice.  Whether it’s in a latte, or you’re making your own spin on an old fashioned, pumpkin spice syrup has managed to find its way into the collective conscience of virtually everyone in Western society over the last five years.  Combining cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves or allspice in its mix, its likely to have its fair share of fans.

With themed menus, it’s good to try and scope what can be prepared in advance. Batching up cocktails, or at least part of the ingredients ahead of time can speed things up if they prove popular.  It’s also great to get your staff at least partially trained up on these new drinks, to save undue stress.

On top of cocktails of you have any beer deals with local breweries, they might have seasonal beers, particularly as autumn harvests can lead to some interesting and novel ales.

If your bar does food, there are dozens of horror themed recipes, or using some of those in-season root vegetables, tubers and spices we’ve mentioned a few times.  Pumpkin pie, cookies shaped like vampire fangs, apple crumbles, and curried vegetable soups all have big appeal to guests, particularly if they’re warm and comforting on some of the colder nights.  It’s good to figure out what your bar needs.

 

4. Have a halloween party

If you’ve got your staff in costumes, the decorations out and the themed menus, you may as well get folks in their colourful garb throwing shapes.

There are a ton of themes synonymous with horror films and Halloween – The Monster Mash, Ghostbusters, and a whole bunch of others can put us in the mood for dancing in our Halloween get ups, provided the DJ knows how to spin those decks.

If your venue is family friendly, Halloween is a great time to get big smiles on kids faces.  Kids love to be scared (within reason – put the chainsaw down!) and it can be so much fun to bring them in on the activities.  Apple dunking, bean bag toss games, conkers and various games of tag can all come into play, whilst having all manner of ghost and goblin themed sweets can make a child’s time more memorable as their parents enjoy a few refreshments themselves.

5. Host a film screening

It goes without saying, Halloween would be nothing without horror films.  Whether they’re the black and white Hammer House of Horror flicks of the 50s with all their campy Dracula and Frankenstein characters, or they’re more up to date works of Jordan Peel, they’ve all got their place and showing them in your beer can be a great way to draw drinkers in.

Your bar might have a screen and a projector which could make for a great display on the smoking area or beer garden wall, but if your function room isn’t booked, why not take advantage of this space?  You could wheel out the old CRT monitors and VCRs to throw classic ‘80s films that millenials associate the occasion with  – Gremlins, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street can all provide some campy laughs as well as some thrills.

Like the experimental decorate the bar approach, you could might also be able to reach out to local filmmaking groups and film students on Facebook groups and run a scary short film night.  This takes a little bit of planning, as you’ll have to go to the effort of communicating with the groups, collecting the files, making sure they run smoothly and potentially have one of your staff members oversee this.  Great if you’ve got someone even moderately tech savvy, or who handles your communications/back office, but it may be a little bit trickier in today’s understaffed hospitality industry.

 

6. Host a storytelling

Similar to film screenings, having professional storytellers, or story telling circles come in to tell ghost stories can make things feel really special.  Whether the stories are told with a little bit of mirth for adults, or designed to put chills down the spines of those lucky kids allowed into the bar, storytelling can really make your bar stand out from the crowd.

Bringing storytelling in can be a great opportunity to embrace your surroundings.  A lot of bars are located in areas with a lot of history.  The bars themselves may have had all sorts of stories involving famous people, ghosts and murders.  This can be something you can mention to local publications or historical groups, who might come  for this interesting novelty.

Depending on the size of the bar, you could even turn the whole place into a haunted house.  This again will require some time to prepare and set up. It may also set you back a bit if you’re bringing in professional actors and customers to make the whole house  come to life.

Storytelling can work really well if you have a themed bar too.  An Irish bar could opt to have a Samhain celebration instead, a Pagan tradition found in Celtic myths of legends.  Your bar could be the only bar to have carved turnips instead of pumpkins!

 

Photography, videography and marketing

If you’re going to spend money on decorations, costumes, actors, games then make sure to keep a visual record.  No doubt your customers will be snapping and sharing what’s been happening on all the good social media platforms, but don’t forget to do your own.

Having a professional photographer or videographer can be a great idea, but another nice novelty idea would be to set up your own photo booth, with Polaroid style set up.

Make sure as many folks as possible know about your festivities.  If your bar as an emailing list, this is a great place to start, along with social media and the usual digital marketing.  If your bar is on a high street, and you have permission, get a board out with a catchy slogan.  You might also want to get some staff handing out leaflets or spooking adult trick-or-treaters into coming in.  Whatever works!

 

Overall, Halloween can be a great time for bars.  The trick is to try and have fun.  If you and your staff are having fun, then with luck the punters are too!

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