Monday, April 22, 2013

Does Your Bar "Sizzle" or "Fizz"

To appreciate this article, I need to share some history. Years ago there was a very popular television series based on a father raising three sons. No, it wasn’t My Three Sons; it was the other one, the western, set back in the late 1800’s. It had a powerful name, Bonanza. Ben Cartwright was the father; Adam was the oldest son; the middle son was Hoss; and the youngest boy was Little Joe. Dan Blocker played Hoss. Now you are probably saying, Eba G. what does any of this have to do with my bar or tavern sales? Very little, unless you want to significantly attract more customers and increase sales.

You see, Dan Blocker never enjoyed the Hollywood lifestyle. His dream was to run a business. Hoss was the only star on Bonanza smart enough to realize he could capitalize on his fame and the popularity of Bonanza. Hoss decided to create two restaurant chains, one chartered in America and the other in Canada. The two restaurant chains Hoss founded were Bonanza and Ponderosa - both family-friendly steakhouses with names to which people could relate.

Hoss was brilliant. Before he opened the doors to his restaurants, he hired a consulting firm; a firm that employed Elmer Wheeler. Hoss’ question to Mr. Wheeler was, “Is there anything I can do to ensure success with my steakhouses?” Elmer asked for some time to think about it.

Nearly three weeks passed before Mr. Wheeler came back to Hoss with a phrase that is now immortal. Elmer said, “Dan, if you want to achieve financial success with your steakhouses – don’t sell steaks, sell their sizzle.”

“What?” was Hoss’ knee jerk reaction. “Don’t sell steaks?”

“That’s right.” Wheeler replied. “Don’t focus on raw meat. People can get that anywhere. Instead, focus on the sizzle you offer.” Elmer suggested Hoss highlight the good times families will have at Ponderosa and Bonanza: their steaks arriving cooked exactly the way they want; the access they would have to an all you can eat salad bar and all the free drink refills they want. Sell the sizzle, Hoss.

During the time Dan Blocker owned Ponderosa and Bonanza, commercials never focused on raw meat. Every commercial focused on the sizzle – the beautifully charred lines running across the face of piping hot steak and served on a thick pewter platter; the unbelievable choices of steak toppings on every table, A-1, Heinz 57 and a neatly paper-wrapped bottle of Worcestershire sauce. Hoss made millions. When he sold these two chains, the new owners immediately focused on the meats they offered and sales plummeted. Eventually Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouse filed for bankruptcy.

So let’s talk about your bar or tavern. Do you sell the sizzle? For example; do you sell beer, cold beer or ice cold beer? Do you serve beer in a glass, a mug or in a stein? Do you offer an assortment of snacks behind the bar, or do you provide delicious, handy treats to help quell an appetite?

Here’s a good one. What sounds better - Fried Chicken, Deep Fried Chicken, or Southern Fried Chicken? If a bar offers a bowl of ground beef simmered in a tomato-based sauce, which is more appealing - Chili, Cowboy Chili, or Montana Style Chili? If a bar sells slices of potatoes dunked in hot oil, which sounds more appetizing - Fries or French Fries? But what if a little paprika was sprinkled on them and then called Bohemian Style Fries? Which would be more desirable and command a premium price?

What do regulars and potential new customers see when they enter your bar or tavern, raw meat or a sizzle? Are you providing a four-walled enclosure that sells beer and booze or are you offering customers a good time, in a fun atmosphere that they can’t stop thinking about?

The two largest breweries in America – Budweiser and Miller - don’t sell a concoction of hops, malt and barley boiled in water. One sells ‘The King of Beers’ and the other ‘The Champagne of Bottle’ - two sizzles. To attract more customers, sell more products and increase your sales. Stop selling beer and booze and start selling “your sizzle” (your uniqueness).

If you have been in business awhile, you know why sizzle counts – sizzle often makes the difference. Have comments or suggestions on how a small bar or local tavern can create its sizzle, please share them. Send Eba G. an email at

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