While restaurant operators are gearing up for the big holidays that will soon be arriving, there’s another one closing in that warrants some attention. From going all-out with costume parties and contests to adding some Halloweenish drinks to the menu, there are numerous ways restaurants can join in on the festivities and become a yearly hot spot for neighborhood tricker-treaters and adults looking for some revelry.
An AP-NORC poll found that over 75% of adults in America celebrate Halloween. It’s the night when their inner muse or tucked-away counterpart whispers in their ear, “Be the superhero that saves the day or a carefree, sun-tanned Barbie.” For those choosing the latter, there’s sure to be some stiff competition this year.
Like most holidays, it creeps up upon us and is gone before we’ve embraced it to its fullest. It does, however, offer an excellent opportunity to create a yearly tradition that calls the town folk to your eatery. Let’s explore a few ways you can scare away the ghosts and bring in the living on Halloween.
A side note: According to HISTORY.com, about 25% of all the candy sold in the U.S. every year is purchased for Halloween. Wow.
Restaurants and Bars Embracing Halloween
Yes, The Haunted House Restaurant exists, and it’s open all year long. In Cleveland, they’ve taken all things Halloween to a whole new level, creating an experience all about horror. Appetizers include Chucky Rolls and handcrafted cocktails like the Potion Bowl, which offer a “magical spell-bounding experience” incorporating dry ice.
What started as a Halloween pop-up bar about five years ago in St. Louis now has venues in Alabama, Tennessee, and Columbia, OH. Called Numbskull Halloween Invasion, mixologists Tim Wiggins and Kyle Mathis are behind this popular concept. They’ve also partnered with the Pearl Diver, taking their spooky, immersive experience to Nashville. Guests experience drinks like the Human Canvas, a combination of mezcal, Lillet Blanc, aloe vera, squid ink, falernum, ghost chile bitters, lime, and a tattoo.
How “Normal” Restaurants Can Join the Halloween Celebrations
Some restaurants go all-out with decorations and costumes, a strategy that engages staff and sets the mood. Others add a few spooky craft cocktails and call it good. Whatever your approach, here are some ideas to help get you in the spirit. Pun intended.
- Scary Beverages: Transform a classic Dark and Stormy into a Halloween cocktail with round ice cubes made from lychee syrup and eye-like brandied cherries stuffed into lychees. Or, how about a blackberry lemon drop rimmed with pomegranate-stained sugar or a black vodka bloody Mary? And, of course, smoked drinks are a big ticket for this holiday.
- Themed Specials: Consider a few dishes or appetizers designed for the Halloween crowd. One option is joining the popular charcuterie board craze with a Halloween theme. Call upon one or two of your more creative staff members and turn cheeses, bite-sized sausages and meats, grapes, figs, nuts, and accouterments into a graveyard scene or ghostly specter with miniature skeletons and spiders.
- Scary Selfies: Set up a special Halloween-themed space that calls the photo generations in. Consider including a dry ice punchbowl for a smoky graveyard effect. Ensure the area is well-ventilated and not placed in a way that customers feel compelled to touch it (one never knows).
- Horror Films, Spookeasy, and Tarot Card Readers: Giardino, a restaurant in San Diego, is hosting their first Halloween bash with dinner, a DJ, a costume contest, silent horror films, and more. They’re catching families before trick-or-treating begins with a kids-eat-free special offer until 6 p.m. After 9 p.m., the adult party begins.
- Invoke the Spirits: Transform your restaurant into a Halloween retreat with a few simple additions. This may be as easy as carved pumpkins with LED lights, flying bats, and witches’ brooms to gothic-like candle holders, Celtic crosses, goblets, and dried black and purple roses. The right lighting is key.
- Classical Traditions: Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain. To ward off ghosts, consider bringing in a Celtic musical group and creating a magical ambiance with oracle readings, wizards, candles, and esoteric offerings. Harry Potter fans may find your aura irresistible.
Halloween offers the perfect opportunity to attract new guests and remind regulars why they chose your establishment as their “go-to.” As with most marketing, the main question is, “Who is your target market?” The answer to that question defines your strategy.
Turning to your social media channels is the way to get the word out fast. Share your unique menu designed for the occasion. Frankenstein Fritters, anyone? Show pictures of your Halloween cocktails that bring smoke, blood, and bones. Announce your happenings across all your digital platforms and invite customers to post their photos. Use eye-catching printouts in your restaurant and place them around town.
Then, enjoy this unique opportunity to celebrate the unusual and start a holiday tradition.