There is a great article in this week’s issue of the City Pages about the affect on business the State’s smoking ban has on the tavern industry. Since July 5, 2010 all public workplaces and establishments are to be smoke free. This ban also includes restaurants and bars. Previously the City of Wausau had an ordinance banning smoking in public places, but taverns and restaurants where exempt if at least 50% of their income was generated from alcohol sales. The new statewide ban does not make that distinction.
Conventional wisdom would say that taverns would see an overall decline in patrons due to the ban. In fact many area bars are seeing a general decline in sales. But the cause of this drop is more complex than just due to limiting smoking. According to the article, if people are staying at home to drink and smoke, beer distributors should see carryout sales of alcohol offsetting the tavern sales. But according to area beer distributors, this is not the case. They feel the economy has more to do to the lack of sales than the smoking ban.
What area taverns need is to get more aggressive in their advertising and marketing. Long gone are the days when a bar could open up, put out a sign and people would wander in. Our time pressed society and the pressures of every other activity conspire against the tavern. Tavern owners need to take a look at their place, consider some remodeling and create a draw to bring people in.
Local taverns have not previously embraced marketing and social media as a way of bringing in new customers. But platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are a great way for them to engage with customers, promote their specials, and draw them back. A properly executed, and engaging social media campaign is what many bars need in order to stimulate their business.
Wisconsin has a long and proud tavern heritage. It would be shame to see it disappear because taverns didn’t adapt to bring in new customers.