Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Most Theme Bars Fail

My long term readers know I am a big fan of Theme Bars - bars that offer a unique niche and provide an atmosphere based on a special theme.  Unfortunately, most of the bars that proclaim to be Theme Bars really aren't and it’s so sad. Just because a bar or tavern has several large screen TVs located throughout the bar does not make a bar a Sports Bar.

Years ago, one of my very first client’s was a couple from Michigan.  They had gone to Jamaica for a vacation and fell in love with the Caribbean flair:  the weather, the ocean, the sandy beaches but most of all a little Tiki bar they visited each day while in Jamaica.  

When they returned home to Michigan they decided to buy a local bar and create a Tiki Bar.  They quit their jobs and cashed in their 401Ks.  Their goal was to bring all the fun and excitement of a Jamaican Tiki bar back to northern Michigan. Now three years later they were wallowing in debt about to lose everything.

Upon receiving their call I flew up to Michigan. After meeting with the couple and seeing their bar; it was clear why they were in trouble.  Other than having impressively painted “TIKI BAR” on the front window, the only other ‘theme appeal’ was a dozen eloquently framed pictures - of their now almost 3 year old Jamaican vacation mounted on the walls. Absolutely nothing felt Jamaican or 'Tiki' – in their bar.

Both had to take part-time jobs to pay bills and the two of the worked 90% of all the bar shifts. Neither the husband or the wife knew how to make Caribbean style drinks.  No were in the bar was no coconut crème, pineapple juice or fresh fruit anywhere. 

Tap beer, shots and mixed drinks like whiskey old fashions and Manhattans were their staple.  Country western music bellowed out of their juke box – but oh God were they proud to own the only Tiki bar in northern Michigan.   

Recently, while on another assignment I had the opportunity to visit an old colleague.  He asked if I’d like to grab a bite to eat and he took me to a place called Gilligan’snamed after the famed Gilligan’s Island TV show.  Boy O Boy was I excited; I had never been to Gilligan’s Island theme bar. 

As we pulled in the parking lot there it was - the big sign “Gilligan’s”. I could hardly wait to get inside.  Immediately upon entering Gilligan’s shades of the Tiki Bar flashed through my head. The decor of Gilligan’s was nothing special:  a semicircular bar area, a few scattered tables, a juke box, a couple of large screen TV’s behind the bar, a pool table and a dart machine.

When the server came to take our orders wearing blue jeans and worn T-shirt  I asked “Why do you call this place Gilligan’s?” He proudly pointed to three pictures hanging on one wall.  The first picture was of the Skipper and his little buddy, the second, was a group shot of all the castaways, and the last photo was of the Professor and Gilligan working on some kind of contraption as Ginger and Mary Ann watched. 

He then flashed a big smile and said “look above the doors”.  Oh my God he was right, it was amazing.  Above one restroom doors was a sign that read Mr. Howell and the other door had a sign that read Mrs. Howell.  If my legs weren’t under the table I might have floated up into space from all the Gilligan excitement.

Before leaving I was able to meet the owner. I and asked him why his staff didn’t dress like Gilligan Islanders in 'would be sailor attire' or why his hostess didn’t dress like Ginger or why he himself didn’t wear a cap like the skipper did. “Awe that stuff cost too much and the employees don’t like wearing that crap”.  Humm I thought! 

Here was another splendid opportunity for a bar owner to create special atmosphere - something unique - something different - an honest to goodness theme bar that no one else in the area had … but he didn’t want to because the staff didn't like to wear that crap.

Great theme bars can be money makers where customers and profits just roll in if done right. But a theme for a bar has to be developed and it has to be consistent. Beer, booze and food can be purchased anywhere but finding a great theme bar where you can really have fun and spend lots of money are not. 

Theme bars fail when they don't have a theme.

Eba G is profit analyst who helps small bar and local taverns owner significantly increase their sales and profits for  Have a question?  Send Eba G an email at   Want more great ideas on how to increase your bar’s profits visit