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Buy Your Customers A Drink

Do you know the two most powerful words in the English language?

“Free beer”.

Buying someone a drink is a time-honored ritual and one that carries a lot of weight with customers. Servers know that free drinks can boost check averages (and may actually be pouring them behind your back, but that’s a subject for another day). Managers use them to pacify angry customers. From a marketing standpoint, the only reason to give out free drinks is to get more revenue in return.

To do this you have to be selective. Trying to get sales in a slow period will backfire if you end up attracting a big crowd of cheapskates who buy little beyond the minimum. Instead, get your free drinks into the right hands.

For Ironfire Bar and Grille, a burgers-and-beer type restaurant on Leech Lake, I suggested a drink token system. The owners also own Anderson’s Northland Lodge, which is 8 minutes from the restaurant by boat or 15 minutes by car. To attract their lodging customers to their restaurant, they put out a tray of wooden coins marked “Free Drink” and noted that they could be turned in one per customer for a domestic beer or soft drink.

The program has run nonstop since 2010. Northland Lodge customers have already proven their willingness to spend money (since they are guests at an upscale lodge) and the fact that there is a small travel commitment to get to the restaurant virtually ensures that they buy something beyond the free drink. Furthermore, it is good for market share. It’s not uncommon to hear guests say, “we should eat at Ironfire to get those free drinks”.

If you can find the right system, selective use of “free” will keep your customers happy while actually making you more money. It might be time to buy your customer a drink.