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 sad.

Remember this: Several large screen TV's located throughout a bar does not constitute a 'Sports Bar'.

Many of my old time readers will remember that years ago, one of my very first client’s was a couple from northern Michigan.  They had gone to Jamaica for a vacation and fell in love with the Caribbean atmosphere:  the weather, the ocean, the sandy beaches but most of all a little Tiki bar they visited each day during their stay in Jamaica.  

When they returned home to Michigan they decided to buy a local bar and create a 'Tiki Bar'.  They both 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 they owned.

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

Both the husband and wife had taken part-time jobs to pay their bills and the two of them worked 90% of all the bar shifts. Unbelievably neither the husband nor the wife knew how to make any Caribbean style drinks.  No were in the bar was coconut crème, pineapple juice or any fresh fruit other then lemons. 

Tap beer, shots and mixed drinks like whiskey old fashions and Manhattans were their staple.  The juke box blared out  Country Western – but oh God this couple was proud to own the only Tiki bar in northern Michigan.   

Recently, while on another assignment I had the opportunity to visit an old colleague who asked if I’d like to grab a bite to eat.  He said he was going to take 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 a Gilligan’s Island theme bar before. 

As we pulled in the parking lot there it was - a 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 decorum 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 finally the last photo was of the Professor and Gilligan working on some kind of contraption the Professor invented as Ginger and Mary Ann watched. 

He then flashed a big smile and said “look above those doors”.  Oh my God he was right, it was amazing.  Above each one of the restroom doors were signs:  One read Mr. Howell and the other door read Mrs. Howell.  Honestly if my legs weren’t under the table I might just have floated up into space from all the excitement Gilligan's theme bar generated.

Before leaving I was able to actually meet the owner. I asked him why his staff wasn't dressed 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 - smart man! 

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

Great theme bars can be money makers where both customers and profits just roll in if done right. But a theme for a bar has to be developed, it must be cultivated and it has to be consistent.  Beer, booze and food can be purchased just about anywhere but finding a great theme bar where you can really have fun and spend lots of money are hard to find. 

'Theme bars' will always 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