If you haven’t experienced it, SantaCon is a sight to behold. It’s an all-day, city-wide bar crawl with a holiday theme. Participants dress up in Santa Claus costumes and flood the streets with holiday cheer (AKA drinking). It has a reputation for excess and many cities try to keep it under control, but so far, the red-clad revelry has remained unstoppable.
SantaCon can be a huge day for bar sales, but inviting legions of Santas to shimmy down your chimney isn’t right for every business. For the most part, attendees are quite jolly, but like all big crowds dedicated to drinking, there can be a certain amount of naughty-list-worthy behavior (think Dan Aykroyd in Trading Spaces).
Before you decide to open your doors to the North Pole’s finest, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the history of the event and what to expect.
The history of SantaCon
SantaCon started in San Francisco in 1994 as a “joyful performance art piece” designed to poke fun at consumerism. It was created by a group of prankster-artists called The Cacophony Society. They’re most famous for starting Burning Man. They also served as Chuck Palahniuk’s inspiration for Project Mayhem in Fight Club.
In a few years it spread to Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. There are now hundreds of chapters in cities all over the world. It usually occurs on a Friday or Saturday in November or December, but it varies by city. Check with the official site for the latest dates.
Most of the anti-consumerist mission has fallen to the wayside, but some chapters do raise money for charities. However, not everyone is a fan. The Village Voice described it as "a day-long spectacle of public inebriation somewhere between a low-rent Mardi Gras and a drunken fraternity party.” If that sounds like a business opportunity to you, then read on.
Plan your visit from Santa Claus
By design, SantaCon takes people by surprise. The routes are usually not announced until a day or two before. A few chapters, like New York’s, don’t post the route until the last minute.
If you want to be a stop on the route, you can actually email one of the head Santas at Santa@santacon.com. He will put you in contact with the organizers in your town if the match seems appropriate. Typically what they’re looking for is proximity to the route and the ability to handle large crowds. Make sure you have enough people on hand to serve the extra customers.
That said, organizers are generally aware there can be problems showing up unannounced to a venue with a large crowd. Most of them will make direct contact with the venues they want involved. Once you’re on Santa’s list, ask when the Santas will be arriving, how many to expect and how long they’ll stay.
Serve up some merriment
When you’re going to be hosting Santas, get into the holiday spirit. Holiday-themed beverages can add to the atmosphere. If you’re ambitious and known for your cocktails, try Milk & Cookies. It’s a real crowd pleaser.
However, like all bar crawls, the game is getting as many people served as fast as possible because the party will be moving on. Making your drink specials easy to prepare will help your bartenders serve the crowd quickly. The Christmas Cookie is easy to make. And groups love taking shots together, especially when the recipe is personalized for them.
Get your selfies with Santa
Bar crawls bring in new customers. This means you have the opportunity to turn some of them into regulars. The first step is to show them a good time. When your hospitality is solid, they’ll be inclined to come back. The second step is to get them involved with you after they’ve gone. You can use social media to make connections with your new customers. Here are a few things that are easy to do:
Feature pictures of your SantaCon cocktails on social media before everyone gets there.
Post of a sign with your social handles and encourage customers to tag you in their pictures.
Search for relevant hashtags (e.g., #SantaCon, #Christmas, #ChristmasCrawl, #Santarchy) and like people’s pictures in real time.
If you recognize customers in photos, thank them for coming in the comments section.
Post your own crowd photos and tag as many people as you can.
Put Santa on your email list
Getting people on your mailing list is important because it drives customer acquisition and retention. The trick is getting people signed up. For a wild event like SantaCon, customer comment cards, fishbowls and signup sheets aren’t going to cut it. People are too busy with their reindeer games to fill anything out. But they will have their phones with them.
Social savvy Santas will definitely be posting pics and videos all day and looking for guest WiFi to help them save on their data. If you offer free WiFi, it’s easy to turn your hotspot into a marketing platform that automatically collects email contacts. When people sign on to your landing page, they’ll trade you their email for access.
Once you have the contact, you can start connecting with your new customers right away. For example, you can send a welcome email to new customers who came in on SantaCon. Let them know about any upcoming events (New Year’s is just around the corner) and offer them an incentive to return. This could be anything from a waived cover fee to a free drink.
Master the bar crawl
Once you have a reputation for being a fun spot for groups, you’re probably going to be a destination for them. Big days like St. Patrick’s Day are on the horizon, but an even bigger potential opportunity is getting hooked up with a bar crawl promoter like Crawl SF. These kinds of businesses are getting more popular and can help bring people in.
You can definitely boost sales by getting in on the bar crawl trend. It all comes down to knowing your business and having a successful way to convert new customers into regulars. And if you can handle SantaCon, you can handle just about anything.