The Football Season Playbook for Restaurants

By Andrew Turnwall


Andrew Turnwall

September 24, 2018

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Are you ready for some football?

According to Nielsen ratings, the average NFL game drew between 18 and 27 million viewers during the 2017 season. Odds are, some of them would enjoy watching the big game at a restaurant. With the 2018 season in full swing, we’re sharing tips on how you can use football season to drive traffic and sales in your establishment and how to do it without sacrificing what makes your establishment unique.

Your Football Party Goals

First think about what type of football party you want to host and what your goals are. For instance, catering to your Sunday regulars by showing the hometown game at the bar with a few food or drink specials is great for customer loyalty. But if you want to increase traffic and sales at your restaurant, it’s likely better to throw a more involved viewing party with perks that will draw in new customers and keep them coming back all season long.

The Logistics

There are a few things you need to make sure you have in place before hosting football parties at your restaurant.

  1. The right cable package: This one depends on the type of night you plan on hosting. Just showing the local game? Basic cable is probably fine and won’t cost you a fortune. But if you want to show all the games being played, you’ll need a more advanced cable package. Streaming services like Hulu Live, fubo, or CBS All Access, may also be an option. Just watch out for blackout restrictions or you may end up missing the game entirely.
  2. Viewing options: This is another question of atmosphere. Are you showing one game or all of them? Do you want all of your patrons to be able to watch the game, or do you have a space cordoned off? On days with no games, will TVs be at odds with the atmosphere of your restaurant? Answer these questions before buying any additional TVs. Depending on your setup, you could also use a projector to show the game. This allows you to not only adjust screen size, but a projector is small and can be stored or cleverly hidden between events.
  3. Your space: Do you or your patrons expect a certain atmosphere? Are you worried loud or rude customers will create a negative experience for people not there to see the big game? If you have the space, or the ability to partition off part of your space, consider allowing patrons who simply came for dinner to enjoy it, while giving your game customers a space to have fun.

The Festivities

Once you have the logistics locked down to host game night, you can go about designing the event.

  • The Food: There are some things on gameday that are just sacrosanct: beer, wings, and a variety of fried-and-terrible-for-you offerings. Use the classic staples as inspiration for something that is true to the vision of your restaurant. Unique means memorable, which means great word of mouth, online reviews, and repeat business.
  • The Atmosphere: You can go all out for gameday with flair and decorations, or you can keep the aesthetics of your restaurant the same. Small tabletop decorations and a few festive touches on the bar work just as well as going all out with jerseys, streamers, and a custom dress code for the staff. If you don’t feel going overboard is appropriate, don’t do it.
  • Specials & Promotions: Give people who don’t often visit your restaurant a reason to come in. Anyone can carry the game on Sundays—what about your event is unique? Deals on drinks are fine, but you can do more to stand out. You can run a themed trivia party during the game. You can offer deals that hinge on the outcome of the game (which will keep people in-house for the full duration of the game, no matter the winner or loser). You can give away tickets to NFL games. You can open early for a brunch “tailgate” party.
  • Fantasy Football: If you’re feeling particularly industrious, run a fantasy league! Depending on the laws in your state, you can set up something free and easy online, run one-day fantasy leagues with something like DraftKings, or even go old school and play the pen-and-paper way. This ensures repeat customers, and is an extra incentive to come in. Maybe even sign your restaurant up with a team and put up a special prize for not just the winner but any team that beats you at the end of the season.

Promote Your Event

Get the word out and make your event a smash.

  • Website: Make sure your event, which will likely run all season long, are featured on your website. Include times, activities, and any deals for that day.
  • Newsletters: If you have a mailing list, start advertising a month before the season begins. Let people know the great things you have coming and build the hype around the return of the season.
  • Radio: Radio is still a huge presence in the sports world. See if you can swing a sponsorship with your local talk radio hosts or take out air time. You can be sure the sports fans will be listening.
  • Social Media & Flash Giveaways: Flash giveaways are an amazing way to promote your restaurant and your events. Give away gift cards or free drinks on game day, or even the occasional tickets, with random drawings for people who attend your events.


Anticipate Drawbacks

Gameday energy can be infectious, but it can also be rowdy. Having a few contingency plans in place can help minimize any unideal fallout.

  • Technical Issues: No matter how good you are with computers, TVs, or electronics, things can still go awry. Tackle (see what we did there?) this potential problem from a few angles: first, test your gear long before the games actually begin. Nobody wants to spend half an hour looking at their phones for the score because an input somewhere was loose. It’s frustrating for the customers and you as well. Second, if something does go wrong during the game, make sure there’s someone on hand who knows how to fix it. Quick fixes make for happy customers.
  • Disruptive customers: Depending on your type of establishment, a large group of unruly customers may be something fairly new. That said, everyone has had to deal with trouble from patrons at some point. Be aware that a gameday atmosphere can become charged, so have your staff ready to act quickly and professionally should the need arise.
  • Complaints from regulars: Patrons out for a regular dinner can be disrupted by the game. This type of unhappy patron is usually easier to deal with than drunk or unruly patrons, and calm explanations and positive listening skills are a huge part of service recovery here. Make them feel heard, and most people will understand.

The start of football season brings with it a certain energy. The wind carries the first feeling of fall. The changing of the leaves isn’t far off. There’s an excitement to it. This energy and excitement is something you can harness at your restaurant or bar, all without breaking your atmosphere or your budget.


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