The night before Thanksgiving goes by many names: Black Wednesday, Blackout Wednesday and most notably, Drinksgiving. It’s become a legitimately boozy, underground holiday where bar patrons all over the country gather with libations to reduce the stresses of holiday travel and political discussions with family members.
For many years, this was a night bar owners knew to staff heavily for. Bar tabs tend to be big because just about everyone has the next day off. And there’s no better hangover food than a full Thanksgiving dinner.
As someone who worked in bars for many years, I can report that heavy drinking the night before Thanksgiving has been a thing for a long time. But it really took off in the mid-2000s when Drinksgiving was coined and turned into a hashtag.
From there, it quickly exploded, especially among young college students (well-known for their moderate drinking habits). Many are home for the first time since leaving for college. For them, it’s a time to hang with old friends or misguidedly attempt to rekindle romance with an ex.
If you own a business with a bar, embrace Drinksgiving. You’re already going to be busy, so why not go big and make it an annual tradition?
Get the word out
Use the hashtag #Drinksgiving in your social media posts and tag people you know who are coming to town. This is basic influencer marketing, but you don’t have to get caught up in the details of watching trends and checking people’s profiles for followers. The hashtag has been established and inviting vocal fans will be enough to generate buzz with the right people. Some places will even invite beloved bartenders who’ve moved away, but are in town, to work a guest shift.
On the night itself, offer some fun drink specials. One of the bars I worked at came up with a special called Grandpa’s Turkey Dinner. It was a shot of Wild Turkey with a cranberry back and a can of PBR on the side. People loved it. Actually, they might have loved it a little too much. But it became a thing and over the years, guests made it a part of their tradition. That’s what’s really fun about these new holidays—you get the chance to be playful.
If you don’t feel like doing any of that, don’t sweat it. What's nice about Drinksgiving is you don’t have to do much to promote it. Just opening your doors is going to be enough for most businesses. Josh Snow, owner of the Santa Maria, California Irish bar O’Sullivan’s says, “We make sure our bar is stocked and our DJ is playing some good music. People’s desire to spend a little time with friends they haven’t seen in a while does most of the work for us.”
Prepare for crowds
Wednesday night can be a bit of a sleeper most of the year. However, on Drinksgiving, it pays to staff up. Liquor sales can jump about 23% compared to the previous Wednesday, and average beer sales grow an exceptionally large 270% over the same period. Tips are usually generous, which can be a nice bonus right before Black Friday.
The places I worked were usually pretty rowdy. If that sounds like your joint, make sure you beef up security, too. With great drinking comes great irresponsibility. So give your team enough people to help de-escalate things if someone celebrates a little too hard. It probably goes without saying, but don’t let people drink and drive. The roads are extra busy this time of year. You want people to have fun, and part of that is keeping everyone safe.
Go beyond Drinksgiving
Drinksgiving is huge, but it’s actually more of a suburban phenomenon. People leave the big coastal cities to return home to family in the heartland. But that doesn’t mean big cities don’t love a crazy made-up holiday too (just look at SantaCon). You might have to be a little more creative.
For example, Detroit’s Leland City Club throws a Gothsgiving where fellow creatures of the night gather to enjoy DJs spinning the likes of Bauhuas and Siouxsie and the Banshees. San Francisco’s Butter throws an annual ‘Butter Ball’ featuring dance music, special Thanksgiving eats and cheap drinks.
Drinksgiving has become a bona-fide-internet holiday. That means, like cat videos, it’s going to be with us for a while. It also means you’ll have old-timers complaining about how “it used to be cooler.” That may be the case, but for bar owners, it’s still a fun night to serve good food and drinks and make people happy—just like Thanksgiving, but without all the family drama.