Opening a bar is hard work, and keeping a bar open in the extremely competitive food and drink industry can be even tougher.
One of the best bar promotion strategies to keep a business successfully up-and-running is repeat customers. Repeat customers are vital to most businesses, and one of the best ways to encourage customers to keep coming back is through loyalty programs. More specifically, when talking about bars and breweries, loyalty programs are often called mug clubs.
What Is a Mug Club?
Above: Example of a popular mug club promotion at Brothers.
Mug clubs are great for bringing repeat customers in, and, if the perks are good enough, buzz about your mug club will also likely bring in new customers looking to join the club.
Starting a mug club is fairly easy and extremely beneficial for business. However, there are certain tips that will help your mug club continuously gain loyal members. Below are five steps to starting a mug club and making it a successful bar event.
1. Your Bar’s Marketing Budget
Like with any business venture, you’ll need to plan a budget to ensure you won’t overextend your finances with your mug club. The goal of a mug club is to entice a loyal group of repeat customers and create a community within your brand. A mug club can be a fun source where extra income can flow in, but it has to be managed properly.
Factors to consider when creating your mug club budget:
- How much will designing and creating mugs for your mug club cost?
- How many mugs should you order?
- How much will you charge for a mug club membership?
- Who will sponsor your mug club and any events?
- What mug club “swag” will you offer your members and how much will you need to order?
2. Create a Mug Design
While most members don’t join a mug club solely for the mug, it’s important to create a mug design that is aesthetically pleasing to be used as a marketing tactic. Cool-looking mugs will encourage mug club members to post pictures of it on social media and entice non-members when in your bar and on your bar’s social media.
When creating a mug design, remember to leave a spot for members to identify their mugs – number ID’s are the easiest solution. Consider creating a photogenic display for the mugs to show off your brand, your mug club, and your members.
3. Design an easy enrollment process
Making a loyalty program hard work to join is one of the easiest mistakes businesses make that deters people from signing up. Customers want a simple process with minimal forms to fill out. If all you initially need is a name, email, and credit card, don’t ask for anything else until later on.
Consider your short and long term goals. Creating an easy enrollment process can help with both. Short-term, an easier program gets people signed up more often and faster. Long-term, the more loyal customers your mug club brings in, the more secure your business will be.
4. Promote Your Mug Club
Promotion is necessary to get the word out about your mug club and why it would be beneficial and fun for customers. Your mug club is a promotional tactic for your bar, and your bar is a promotional tactic for your mug club.
Consider promotional content that will gain your bar new customers and your mug club new members. Use social media and mailing lists to reach customers online and an awesome-looking mug rack to promote in your bar.
Don’t underestimate word-of-mouth, and use it as often as you see the opportunity. Ask employees to spread the word about your mug club to customers and friends, and ask customers to share the news with their friends, family, co-workers, etc. Word-of-mouth is a reliable promotional tactic that potential members trust and are more likely to follow through on than hearing about your mug club from an Instagram advertisement.
5. Offer Year-Round Perks
In order to keep a steady influx of new members and current members interested, your mug club will need to plan year-round events and benefits to continue to entice members and remind them why they are paying to be a part of your club.
Consider hosting private mug club member events, hosting tastings, and offering giveaways and discounts to your members. These perks don’t have to cost you a lot, are easy to implement, and keep your members happy.
“Customers are very happy because they can now get food from local restaurants they love fast. Ordering is very easy and food is dropped off straight to their table.”
OWNER, DOC RYAN’S – CHICAGO, IL
Now that you know what it takes to start a mug club, check out five examples of successful mug clubs to inspire you.
1. Burger Bar Chicago
Location: Chicago, IL
Burger Bar Chicago offers a great deal to its mug club members. With a $40 annual fee, members get their own mugs that are larger than the average beer for the same price and all Feature Friday Beers for only $1. On top of getting better deals on beers, members also get the inside scoop on rare beers in stock.
The club is easy to join, as Burger Bar Chicago only asks for a phone number and optional birth date form to be filled out at first.
2. Richmond Republic Draught House
Location: San Francisco, California
Richmond Republic Draught House is a pricier mug club option for beer connoisseurs in California. The membership is $150 per year; however, the club is currently offering a lifetime membership for a one-time $250 payment, which can quickly pay off itself.
With the membership, customers get one free beer every Tuesday in addition to all beers always costing happy hour prices and $2 off beers from the featured brewery of the month.
Not only do customers drink beer for next to nothing, but they are invited to Richmond Republic Draught House’s annual mug club party every September, where they are lavished with free food and beer.
Richmond Republic Draught House asks for a name and email with the option to add a subject line and message for consumers looking to join.
3. Northern Bell
Location: New York, New York
Northern Bell uniquely offers first year members a discounted trial rate of $35, with every year after costing $50. The mug club membership offers members their own 20-ounce mug to hang above the bar that members can drink out of for free on their birthdays and for $5 on Mondays.
In addition to regular discounts, Northern Bell throws quarterly parties for mug club members only and offers a giveaway at the end of each year that is well worth the membership fee. The member who spent the most time at the bar that year is awarded a weekend trip to a brewery in the United States with alcohol and travel paid for by Northern Bell.
Joining the Northern Bell mug club is not as easy as others, as the bar only offers a certain amount of spots at a time. In order to inquire about joining the Northern Bell mug club, consumers are asked to send an email asking for more details.
4. Founders Brewing Co.
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Founders Brewing Co.’s mug club is branded as an extension of those already in the “Founders Family.” However, this is no small extension. With a new membership fee of $60 that can be renewed annually for $50, members received countless perks to joining the Founders Brewing Co.’s mug club.
In addition to a personalized mug, some of the most notable benefits include $1 off all beers every day, $2 off growler fills every day, and $1 off howler fills every day. On top of those deals, every Wednesday, members get $2 off all beers and 20 percent off store purchases.
Founders Brewing Co. doesn’t only offer great beer discounts for its members, it also guarantees access to limited, pre-sale tickets for events and offers discounted entry for events. Not only that, but the mug club hosts giveaways and contests regularly for members to win fun prizes.
While Founders Brewing Co. offers more benefits than most mug clubs, signing up is a bit more work for members. The brewery does not accept any online sign ups. Members must join in-person at the new member sign-up event, which takes place every December 1.
5. Elm Street Taproom
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Unlike the other examples, Elm Street Taproom requires consumers to drink through all the offered beers at the bar to gain a membership. Once completed, members will receive a free year-long membership that can then be renewed for $39.99 annually.
Joining Elm Street Taproom’s mug club can be quite intense, as the bar has 40 rotating draft lines and 50 bottles and cans aspiring members must complete over time. However, after completion, members receive a 22-ounce mug that they can drink out of for just $1 more than a regular beer, an annual t-shirt, regular food discounts, and an invite to the annual mug club private party.
As there is a checklist of beers to try before joining, there is no sign up option on Elm Street Taproom’s website, but the bar does have a contact form and email signup to stay up-to-date and help aspiring members check beers off their lists.
Next Steps with Your Bar’s Mug Club
Starting a mug club is a fun, cost-effective way to increase your amount of loyal customers. Start with a business plan to ensure your mug club doesn’t hurt your business financially, create your mug, design an easy enrollment process, promote your club, and offer year-round benefits.
Follow those five steps and check out the five mug club examples listed above when planning your mug club. You don’t need to include every benefit these bars do, and you may even think of perks they haven’t come up with yet – all that is important is that your mug club stays true to your brand and keeps your members coming back.