The Total Guide to Writing a Marketing Plan for Bars

By Tiffany Regaudie

Illustration of snacks beers and clipboard

The bottles are lined up behind your freshly waxed bar, and the bar stools you had imported from Mexico are ready and eager to be used. So how exactly do you go about becoming the place where everybody knows your name? Marketing for bars is the key to your success, and a well-written marketing plan will make the execution of your strategy super easy.

So here it is: everything you need to know to write the perfect marketing plan for your bar. In this article, we’ll walk you through all the components of a complete marketing for bars strategy – which you can of course tailor to the needs of your business.

To set you up for success, we’ve also put together a template you can download, customize, and fill in with your own marketing strategy. Take everything you learn here and follow along with your template – at the end of this process, you’ll be well on your way to creating an expert-level promotion strategy specifically tailored to your bar.

What Is a Marketing Plan? 

While a business plan establishes how you will conduct your business in the future, a marketing plan is a blueprint of the ways you will make your business known within the market. 

A marketing plan:

  • Acts as an instruction manual for promoting your business 
  • Sets goals and milestones for customer growth and retention 
  • Determines roles, responsibilities, and budget for promoting your bar

Keep your business plan handy as you build your marketing plan. The two documents – while distinctly different – should rely on each other like a codependent power couple. 

Planning to Write Your Marketing Plan

There are a few things you should check off your to do list before you actually start writing your marketing plan. Here we’ll take you through all the elements you’ll need to prepare before you start writing your plan. 

Competitor Analysis

Whether you beat ‘em or decide to join ‘em, you need to know what “‘em” are up to. Here’s what you need to do to conduct an effective competitor analysis. 

  • Sign up for your competitors’ e-newsletters
  • Follow your competitors on social media
  • Keep a spreadsheet of your competitors’ offers and promotions (including if, when, and how they run their happy hour)
  • Then perform a formal competitive analysis: their channels, voice and tone, target audience, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities you have to beat them, and threats they may pose to your business 

SWOT Analysis

You probably conducted a SWOT analysis of your own business when you wrote your business plan. If you did not, perform one now:

  • List your business’ strengths: the things that make you stand out
  • List your business’ weaknesses – and make sure to be honest
  • Write down opportunities your business has to stand out from the crowd, whether it’s a killer happy hour deal or a specialty cocktail with a secret ingredient
  • List any threats to your business, like competitors or a change in your neighbourhood 

Compare your SWOT analysis to the ones you did for your competitors. Note any interesting overlap, and keep this information close at hand when you’re writing your marketing plan. 

Marketing Plan Overview

Before diving into the nitty-gritty details of a marketing plan, you’ll want to remind yourself of your vision, goals, and target audience. Ideally, you can pull this information straight from your business plan. Here’s what you’ll need to include:

Mission statement: Your mission statement is the reason your business exists. Mission statements are usually one to three sentences and approximately 50 words. They describe your bar’s value, inspire your customers, staff, and stakeholders, are plausible and realistic, and they are specific and to the point. 

Elevator pitch: Your elevator pitch is how you would describe your bar to a stranger if you only had 60 seconds. Make sure you include your business’ name, specialty, and what makes you unique. 

Target audience: Describing your target audience can be fun. Some people like to create personas, which are characters who represent your target demographic and psychographics. Imagine your ideal customer walks in and sits down at the bar. Who are they? What are they looking for?

Voice and tone: Now that you’ve created your persona, how do you want to talk to them? Will your tone be more casual or formal? How would the bartender greet them? This is your chance to define a personality for your business. 

Goals: Not to get too existential, but what’s the point of all the work you’re doing here? You’ll want to list some tangible goals you can use to measure your overall success in your marketing efforts. 

Some obvious examples are: 

  • Customer acquisition (XX% growth in 12 months)
  • Customer retention (XX% by end of year)
  • Local share of voice (XX media mentions this year) 

You may have others, and that’s great! Just remember that as you go through the components of your marketing plan, you’ll want to return to these goals to make sure each element of your strategy rolls up to one of these goals.

Cocktail in a cut crystal glass

Writing Your Marketing Plan

For each section of your marketing plan, identify the following: 

  • Goal: Refer to your primary goals. Which goal will each particular tactic or strategy support? 
  • Audience: If you have a segmented audience, identify which segment you’re targeting with each marketing effort. 
  • Channels: Based on who you’re targeting and which goal you’re aiming to meet, determine which channels you will have the most success reaching your audience with. 
  • Timeline: Key events and milestones you hope to hit throughout the year ahead. 
  • Measuring success: We’re talking tangible ways of measuring whether a marketing strategy is working or not. Key performance indicators. 
  • Roles and responsibilities: Who will execute on the elements of your strategy and what will they do? 
  • Budget: Fairly self explanatory. List your budget line items for each tactic. Include a note about return on investment if you’ve done the research. 

Note: Don’t feel pressured to execute on all the components of this plan! You know your capacity best, from budget to human resources. We’re giving you the full menu of marketing ideas for bars, but we also want to stress that you should prioritize what’s best for your business.

Public relations / media marketing 

Media exposure for your bar is marketing gold, Jerry, gold! Especially if you can secure some cool local media when you’re first starting out. But the thing is, you need to give journalists something to write about.

So how do you make your business newsworthy? Here are some ideas:

  • Story mining: Journalists usually do this – but they’ll love you if you can do it for them. Special events, celebrity guest bartenders, or efforts to make your bar more socially conscious – these are the kinds of stories local media outlets drink up (pun intended). 
  • Tap into trends: What’s trending? If you can draw a link between your business and what’s hot in the news – a hot new design trend, a community event, or a social justice issue – you’ll be seen as newsworthy. 
  • Pull on heartstrings: Make people feel something about you and the media will follow. One of the easiest ways to do that is through human interest storytelling. Pay attention to your staff and customers. Everyone has a story.
Friends around a table raising their glasses

Events & community partnerships

This may sound odd, but you’ll want to go back to your list of competitors for this one. Get to know your fellow business owners, and maybe even consider collaborating with them on specific initiatives where you may both benefit. The advantage is that this can cost you next to nothing, and you can benefit from tapping into another bar’s customer base. 

Whether you’re participating in a block party, hosting a singles night, or running a private events program, events are a great way to get people into your bar and aware of your brand. 

Here are some of the key items you’ll want to strategize ahead of time: 

  • Events calendar: Keep an up-to-date events listing on your website. Make sure it’s easy to navigate and that each event listing is search engine optimized using keywords related to the event. 
  • Engagement: Events are a great opportunity to encourage people to share their photos of your bar on their social media channels. Create a unique hashtag, encourage people to use it, and tag your business in photos. If you really want to take it to the next level, create an incentive for people to share, like discounts on drinks or VIP access to the next event.  
  • Track your success: Obviously you’ll be measuring your success against your revenue targets for the day, but tracking mentions of your hashtags and traffic to unique URLs will help you determine how successful an event was in the online world.  
  • Talk to your neighbors: Make friends with the florist next door or the food truck owner down the street. You may be able to come up with events or partnerships that are mutually beneficial. 

Website and SEO

Your website is the online face of your business. You’ll want to make sure you include certain key assets to make it easy and enjoyable to navigate: 

  • Easy to find opening hours, location, and contact information
  • High-quality photos of your bar and specialty drinks
  • A detailed and descriptive online menu 
  • Your bar’s history and mission statement 
  • Links to your social media profiles and online review site profiles 
  • An events and promotions calendar 

When designing your website, you should also be thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO helps your bar rank as high as possible when people are searching for places to have a drink with friends.

On a basic level, here’s how to improve your search engine rankings: 

  • Optimize for relevant keywords 
  • Write effective title tags
  • Include keywords in your meta descriptions

Social media

Social media marketing for bars is a must.

It wasn’t so long ago that social media marketing was viewed as cutting-edge. Today social media is a standard component of any marketing plan – which means your competitors are also vying for attention across channels. 

A bar is an inherently social place, so it goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that social media is an excellent tool for marketing your bar. 

Get to know the various social media channels before you develop your bar’s social media strategy. Every channel comes with its own features, characteristics, and potential problems you’ll need to be aware of. 

Instagram, for example, is a no brainer for you, given that people love to post pictures of themselves out on the town with their friends. Creating a geotag and engaging with users who have posted photos at your bar is a great way to drive traffic to your account and interest in your bar.

Twitter requires constant monitoring and maintenance, but is a great platform for updating users in real time about promotions and events.

And while Google+ may seem like a backwater social media channel that basically no one uses, just having a presence on the channel has been said to boost search rankings. 

An effective and thorough social media strategy will include the following: 

  • Channels: Which social media channels you will actively use to interact with your target demographic
  • Unique hashtags: A short list of unique hashtags people can use to interact with your bar online
  • Trending hashtags: List more widely used hashtags your bar will use to join broader conversations
  • Paid promotion strategy: Which posts will you pay to promote and what is your budget? 
  • Driving engagement: What kinds of incentives will you offer your customers to encourage them to engage with your social media channels? Is there a selfie booth in your bar? Do you offer a free shot to people who share a photo of a specialty menu item and tag your bar? 
  • Engagement strategy: The above item determines how you will drive engagement from others, but your engagement strategy outlines how you will manage your own level of online interactions. Responding to comments, liking photos posted under your geotag, and reposting photos your customers posted using your unique hashtags are all great examples. 

Consider your goals and the conversations you want to be a part of on social media. This will help you focus your efforts when you’re mapping out what should be a significant portion of your overall marketing strategy.

Happy hour promotion ideas 

Making your bar everybody’s favorite watering hole is no easy task, but a list of some original and enticing happy hour promotions is a great place to start! 

  • Does your bar have a theme? If so, play on that. If your bar has a total Mad Men vibe, then offer up discounted Old Fashioneds on weeknights. 
  • Are you located in the heart of the fashion district? Look into what time most people finish work and schedule a discounted cocktail hour. 
  • Are you smack dab in the middle of the action? If you’re surrounded by other bars, stay open on the night they all close and host an industry night with discounted drinks for local bartenders and servers. 

Play into your strengths, and strengthen your weaknesses by offering promotions on nights that tend to be slower or discounts on menu items you’re having a hard time selling. 

Content marketing

Content marketing for bars is where you really get to have some fun. It’s all about brainstorming and pushing out creative content that will get people’s attention and keep them coming to you for information, entertainment, or all of the above. 

Think of content marketing as the more creative element to your marketing plan. It goes above and beyond just having a website and doing standard email and social media marketing, although it’s important to note there will likely be overlap. Content marketing’s main focus is on the relevance and quality of the content itself. 

So whether you’re publishing a how-to guide for making the perfect Old Fashioned on your blog, or creating a short video about the science behind mixology, content marketing is all about creating relevant and highly engaging content to drive traffic to your website, blog, social media channels, and eventually to your bar. 

Contests & giveaways 

It’s no marketing secret, people love free stuff. Tap into that by hosting contests and giveaways to drive traffic to your website and increase engagement across your social media channels. 

  • Incentive: In the words of Bonnie Raitt, Let’s give ‘em something to talk about! You don’t have to play Oprah and give away a car to get people talking, but make sure the prize is exciting enough to incentivize your audience into sharing with their networks.
  • Set expectations: Make sure contest rules and instructions are clearly indicated. Be specific about when you will announce a winner and stick to it. 
  • Keep it simple: The more hoops people have to jump through for the prize, the less likely they are to engage with your giveaway. Keep your calls to action simple but make sure they will directly benefit you. Consider things like: follow our account, tag a friend, and share an image of your food using our hashtag. 
  • Measure your success: What is your end goal? Do you want more followers? Or are you trying to drive people to purchase a specific item? Contests are a fun way to incentivize people to engage with your business in a new way. Determine your goals and establish key performance indicators to track your success. 


If a customer has gone so far as to provide you with their email address, it means they care enough about your restaurant to want info about its success, promos, and events, so don’t leave ‘em hanging!  

But how do you go about collecting customers’ email addresses to get started? Here are some tips:

  • Place an email newsletter subscription button on your website
  • Cross-promote your email newsletter across your social media channels and direct mail campaigns 
  • Create an option to email (instead of print) receipts at checkout 

SMS text message marketing 

The power of mobile marketing for bars is often overlooked and underestimated. With 81% of people turning to their mobile devices when choosing a place to meet up with friends, mobile marketing means they’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand … or wait, you’re in the palm of their hand – either way, it’s effective. 

Here are a few things to set you up for mobile marketing success: 

  • Opt-in strategy: This differs slightly from email marketing opt-ins which typically require you to subscribe by clicking a button. With SMS text messaging, recipients are asked to respond a specific keyword to a 6-digit short code number. Familiarize yourself with SMS text message opt-in regulations to avoid hefty fines or penalties. 
  • Calls to action: Make sure you have a clear, succinct, and easy to follow call to action in your text message. It could be directing people to your website, asking them to use a specific coupon code, or replying to the text message. 
  • Trigger an emotional response: Choose powerful keywords that are relevant to your brand and trigger an emotional reaction in your recipients. 

Online review sites

Word of mouth is nothing new, and it’s tried and true. 

You provide customers with an experience, they talk to their friends about that experience, then those people either choose to hang out at your bar or stay away. 

Online review sites are just word of mouth through the world’s biggest megaphone. 

Here are some of the reasons why you should claim your business on review sites:

  • Be found: Ensure your business information (website, contact info, location schedule, menu) is up to date so people searching by location or category can find you. 
  • Boost search rankings: The more reviews your business has, the higher your bar will rank on Google. When searching, users usually only look at the first few search results, so it’s important you rank as high as possible.
  • Build relationships with customers: Thanking positive reviewers is a great way to solidify their positive experience with you. And when you address issues raised in a negative review, you’ll be more likely to turn a displeased customer’s opinion around. 
  • Improve your business: When you’re paying attention to online reviews, you’re getting insight into what’s working and what’s not, so you know which menu items to promote and how to improve customer experience.

Remember that no two plans are the same – the most successful marketing ideas for restaurants and bars prioritize what’s most important to the business based on budget, time, and resources. But also don’t be afraid to take some risks, as you’ll need to test certain initiatives before you can know whether or not they worked. Make sure to fail fast, learn, and optimize your efforts for the next round. 

Photo of Tiffany Regaudie
by Tiffany Regaudie

Tiffany was the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she shared knowledge with restaurateurs on how to run their business. She’s passionate about traveling the world and getting to know communities through great food.

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