Bar Business: How To: Draw Crowds With Trivia

 In News Coverage

Written By: Chris Ytuarte

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Profiting from on-premise trivia isn’t simply a Field of Dreams arrangement — if you build it, they will not definitely come. But with the right promotion, execution, and incentives, a good trivia event can generate loyal patronage and higher check rates in your bar.

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Sometimes, you just have to see things for yourself. So in late September, on a gray Wednesday afternoon, I made my way from New York City to the suburb of Hershey, Pennsylvania to inject myself into the world of bar room trivia as a guest of Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar. I was ready to rock.

Celebrating its sixth year in business this summer, Arooga’s is a successful new multi-venue full-service casual dining restaurant that just happens to have one of the best beer programs in the northeast. But on this day, I was here to find out what makes Wednesday nights in the Hershey location so prosperous — a weekly hosted “live” trivia event generated by Buzztime.

“It’s been a great six years, but we’re just getting started,” said Gary Huether, Jr., President and Co-founder of Arooga’s. “From day one, we felt like we had a worldclass brand.” Since Arooga’s opened its first restaurant in 2008, it has been ahead of the curve in all aspects of its business, evidenced by its selection as America’s Next Top Restaurant Franchise, beating more than 250 entrants from 36 states in a program co-sponsored by Sysco Foods and The Franchise Edge in a nationwide search to find an independent restaurant to become the next great franchise.

Part of the immediate success and growth has been Arooga’s embrace of on-premise entertainment. While each location boasts dozens of flat screen TVs to allow customers a vantage point from every spot in the venue, Huether, Jr., has always valued the way that interactive gaming and competitions create a more unique experience and cultivate loyal followings. All Arooga’s locations feature Buzztime gaming technology to provide patrons that kind of environment.

“Everything we do at Arooga’s is designed to turn new customers into regulars by providing an exceptional experience,” said Huether, Jr. “With Buzztime’s cutting-edge tablets, we are ‘with the times’ in terms of customers’ expected technology and we exceed their expectations for their overall entertainment experience. Buzztime is a great solution for Arooga’s because we know it keeps people entertained and it also keeps our guests coming back.”

With that in mind, I planned my visit to Arooga’s to find out what made their trivia night work. Right off the bat, I’m drawn to their Wednesday night thanks to weekly advertised specials of 49¢ wings from 5pm to 9pm (trivia runs 5:30 to 7:30) and $6 lager pitchers (including local Pennsylvania staple Yuengling, brewed in nearby Pottstown, and superlocal Tröegs craft beer, made fresh right here in Hershey). Upon arriving, the evening’s trivia event was immediately made apparent by the moviehouse-style announcement on the marquee over the front door. Anyone going through the parking lot would be hard pressed to miss it.

Inside, I take a seat at the very large bar, approximately 15 minutes prior to start time for trivia night. Above the front door, facing in towards all the customers, is a large digital display advertising the music that is available via Rockbot, and below that a scrolling reminder of the evening’s upcoming trivia event. Already present is the evening’s MC, seated toward the back of the venue with a laptop and a microphone. He intermittently breaks into the ambient music to announce that the evening’s contest will be begin soon, and he actively encourages customers to grab a Buzztime console and register (“It’s quick and easy, and free!”).

This prompting from the MC — who will be reading the trivia questions out loud as part of Buzztime’s Trivia Live package — pays off almost immediately. While most people who end up participating have already arrived and are ready to roll (testament to promotion and the creation of a loyal, returning game player base), to my right are two friends who seem to have come in for a quick beer and a bite to eat. But once they hear the MC announce the trivia event, and more so the highly impressive prizes (first place — a Yuengling branded foosball table), they request a Buzztime gaming tablet from the bartender. Another one on the hook.

The foosball table and the second-place prize of a beer branded snowboard are, to be fair, an anomaly, according to one bartender, and had been graciously donated this evening by local distributors. The overall reaction to the prizes from the crowd — shock and excitement — spoke not only to the unusualness of the offerings, but to something else as well: These people weren’t here because of fancy prizes, they were here to play, no matter what was at stake. This was a loyal collection of regulars.

While dinner service at Arooga’s tables began to swell impressively for a drab Wednesday night, most Buzztime players gathered at the bar. While I was a wolfpack of one on this night, it appeared that most every other entry was a team of two, three, or four players. In total, 14 teams battled for trivia supremacy, meaning that, for approximately three hours, somewhere around 35 – 40 people were captivated by the event. The entire left side of the impressively long bar, if I’m not mistaken, was playing Buzztime trivia and cheering (or moaning) after each answer. Due to the timing, most if not all of the participants ordered food along with their drinks. Paired with my local Tröegs pints, I enjoyed Arooga’s Tater Tots of Glory, a huge portion of tots “loaded with two cheeses, crispy bacon bits then drizzled with a chipotle sour cream,” which happen to be gluten free, for those of you so inclined. I was now ensconced in the Arooga’s Buzztime experience.

While I kept team Bar Business in the middle of the pack for most of the evening’s trivia (30 questions spread out over six rounds with increasing difficulty), I was impressed by everything else the bar had to offer. There is nothing, it seems, that Arooga’s does not offer on tap: Firefly Moonshine, segregated cider taps, Fireball Whiskey and Jägermeister taps, two cask ales, a Twisted Tea keg, plus some 40 beers on tap, all served at a chilly 29 degrees. Throughout the event, courteous bartenders ask how I’m fending in the competition while also recommending beers to try and food to sample. Everyone is having a good time; everyone is engaged.

Arooga’s provides the Buzztime BEOND tablet-based entertainment system, featuring seven-inch touchscreens, at all nine of its Pennsylvania locations and will feature the system at all future Arooga’s. Buzztime tablets are connected to a network that delivers single- or multiple-player games like Trivia and Texas Hold ‘Em and are also pre-loaded with more than 25 arcade games for guests of all ages to enjoy.

“We are extremely pleased to have this rock star of a sports bar chain in the Buzztime family,” said Vladimir Edelman, Chief Development Officer at Buzztime. “It’s an exciting time for both of our brands as we look to redefine the consumer entertainment experience inside restaurants, creating a new standard for enjoyment. Partnering with cutting edge brands such as Arooga’s, whose guests expect a next level of entertainment, is fundamental to the Buzztime experience.”

Thanks to the success of programs like Buzztime at the Arooga’s locations, Huether, Jr., in September was named one of Central Penn Business Journal’s Forty Under 40, which recognizes the region’s shining stars for commitment to business growth, professional excellence and community service. “On behalf of the brand, I’m honored to be included in such a special group of people,” says Huether, Jr. “For me, it’s always about Arooga’s.”

And Arooga’s is doing it right. Buzztime trivia and gaming helps it differentiate from the local competition and creates a returning base of customers always ready to play. I may have finished in the middle of the pack on this night of trivia, but by working the Buzztime technology to promote and execute great events, Arooga’s is coming out on top.

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