Tricks and treats

Tricks and treats

The importance of Halloween and Bonfire Night should not be underestimated. Both events enjoy an appeal that spreads from infants to adults and therefore offer operators multiple opportunities to attract and engage them. For operators, it is essential to create decorations and entertainment that will attract customers into their sites, as well as a food and drink offer that will encourage people to spend in the spirit of the evenings, all to deliver an experience that will stand out from the crowd and inspire customers.

Spookify your venue

The first step to a successful event is to ensure that your venue has been furnished properly to set the right tone. Cobwebs, broomsticks, skeletons and other decorations can all be placed around the venue to create an interior that helps to bring customers into the swing of Halloween, while staff costumes can also add to the atmosphere. When operators think about Bonfire Night, they should remember that the main event will be happening outside. They should therefore look at external bars serving food and drink throughout the firework displays.

“Theming the night is a great way to attract additional customers and can be done very cost efficiently,” says Jason Thorndycraft, operations director of The Deltic Group. “For an event like Halloween, it’s about getting into the spirit of the occasion – so as well as themed cocktails and food, operators should think about decorating the space, asking staff to dress up, etc.”

Halloween itself falls on a Tuesday, making it a potentially challenging date for operators to encourage evening footfall or indeed daytime attendance. In addition, Bonfire Night is held on a Sunday, which might raise issues for late night fireworks. However, the benefit of Halloween, and indeed Bonfire Night, is that despite its fixed date in the diary, it is celebrated whenever it is suitable. This provides a useful flexibility for operators to create weekend events before and after 31 October, or to stretch Bonfire Night celebrations across the entire weekend. Another date that sits near Halloween both in the diary and in theme is Day of the Dead. Operators can bring those spooky celebrations into play to keep the offer fresh and continue to maintain interest in the scary season.

“Operators should focus on extending the opportunity of a long weekend as much as possible,” says Ceri Lewis, product controller of spirits and RTDs at Matthew Clark. “There is the opportunity to extend the Halloween celebration with the Day of the Dead (2 November). With Halloween’s intrinsic links to Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, there is a huge opportunity for licensees to prolong the high-footfall period and boost tequila and mezcal sales with a special range of Mexican-inspired cocktails.”


When it comes to both dates, there are plenty of events that operators could host for the entertainment of guests. As well as specifically themed games like apple bobbing, why not also tweak other popular events to give them a Bonfire or Halloween twist such as pin the tale on the ghost, spooky costume competitions or pumpkin bowling? When it comes to Bonfire Night, fireworks are the name of the game and operators must get some attachment to these exploding marvels to create a truly appealing event, whether it’s their own or someone else’s.

“Publicans and bar owners might consider holding their own fireworks display, or partnering with a local event that is able to offer this,” says Sami El Hakiem, trading manager at Molson Coors. “Being the official partner of a fireworks display is a great way to drive footfall into the pub before and after the event, and potentially recruit some new regulars. Health and safety should of course be at the forefront of publicans’ thinking during Bonfire Night, especially if they are hosting their own event.”

The role of a pub within the community has long extended to encompass all members of that community, no matter how young and, as Halloween and Bonfire Night are both events specifically aimed at children and families, operators would be well-advised to think of ways to include kids and their parents within the celebrations. If you can create themed events and interactive activity that youngsters can enjoy then you can bolster footfall and spending hugely. Children’s Halloween especially can also extend potential operating hours earlier into the evening, almost offering operators two bites of the cherry each day of the celebrations – one for families and one for the later night economy.

“Unlike other seasonal events, Halloween is always very much dedicated to the children,” says Alan Smith, general manager at Little Gems Country Dining pub The Chequers in Houghton Conquest. “Closed-off to other revenues for the duration of the event, it is invariably held after school at a time which best suits them. Last year we hosted a spooky disco and buffet with a fancy dress costume and a pumpkin carving competition, charging a fixed price for a family ticket. Not only did we turn over a healthy figure in ticket sales alone, but it is always a great way to strengthen loyalty and promote our family-friendly environment and company ethics to a broader audience. We also have a lot of fun setting it all up.”

Food and drink

If operators are to make the most of Halloween and Bonfire Night, they need to ensure that they have stocked up their cellars and kitchens with seasonally and culturally appropriate food. October and November call for hearty, warming dishes, so these should be at the forefront of your menus. When it comes to drinks, operators should once again be thinking about warming up their customers with mulled drinks, but a strong focus should also be held on non-alcoholic drinks. If you are to attract families and children to both events, then a strong soft offer is essential, while the growing number of teetotal adults means that a more sophisticated range needs to be brought into play as well.

“As occasions that naturally lend themselves to a family audience, it’s advisable for licensees to consider their soft drinks range, making sure there’s a wide choice available for those not drinking alcohol,” says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises. “Even for events without a family focus, it’s important to consider that many adults are now drinking less alcohol. As many as one in five people are now teetotal, so there’s a real opportunity to increase soft drinks sales during Halloween and Bonfire Night.”

As well as considering what food and drink will be most popular during those dates, operators should also consider what could give these dishes and drinks an extra point of difference. Both Halloween and Bonfire Night are full of symbolism and imagery that operators can use to alter their offer and create menus full of smirk-inducing options, as well as products that turn the eye and get people asking questions and ordering more.

“Themed vessels are a great selling point and give consumers the theatre and added value they are looking for when celebrating Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night,” says Andrew King, Funkin managing director. “A quick tip for those operators who want to get involved is to add or swap an ingredient or change the garnish for an existing cocktail to make it a speciality drink perfect for the occasion. Try a fake eyeball or plastic spider for a garnish or add raspberry purée or chocolate sauce to the inside of a glass for effect.”

Given the celebratory atmosphere and the external appeal of fireworks displays, it is likely that customers will be keen to spend as much time as they can outside enjoying the atmosphere. This means that handheld food will be popular, but also brings up the potential performance of outdoor bars. Not only can these external extra selling points reduce pressure at the main bars inside on what promise to be busy nights, but the smell of cooking meat and mulled wines can provide a tempting aroma that will get more customers heading to the bar to buy something. An uncomplicated offer outside will reduce waiting times, while different vessels can reduce breakages in the dark.

“Work closely with your drinks provider to identify alternative packaging to suit the occasion,” says Tom Ochoa, senior business manager at Lanchester Wines. “PET bottles and bag-in-box cartons not only provide a quick and simple serve solution, they also maintain excellent quality of wine in a non-breakable package. Bag-in-box also contains a higher volume of wine than per 75cl bottle making the bar easier to set up and reducing waste. When selecting the wines themselves, don’t over-complicate the offering and keep the range simple. Your customers will be aware it’s an outside event so a red, white and rosé from a wine perspective will be perfect.”

Getting the word out there

The success of an event – whatever the theme – will be judged on footfall, revenue and customer opinion afterwards. For operators to ensure that people come to their venues for these events, they have to get the word out there. These are both popular dates and the competition for attention will be as intense as at any other time in the year. To this end, promotion should start as early as possible and shouldn’t let up until the night itself. A decorated venue can provide some exposure, but operators should also look to their websites, their staff and their social media to reach further afield.

“Whether it is for a pub or a brand, Halloween is more fashionable than ever, and if you don’t have the Instagram or Snapchat to prove it then what is even the point?” asked Sarah Mahoney, marketing manager for Hobgoblin. “Consumers now operate in a 24/7 environment and that comes into play more than ever over the Halloween period. Anybody who is selling Halloween needs to ensure that the experience that their consumer has in the pub mirrors their online activity – ensuring that the consumer is enveloped in a complete brand experience.”

Halloween and Bonfire Night are both events that have grown in popularity over the years and can galvanise communities old and new. With so much attention paid to them, operators need to ensure that they are catering for customers with innovative themed food, drink and entertainment that will capture the imagination.