Drinks, food, games?
More and more often, we see games of all kinds played at bars, breweries, and cafes. These establishments are gathering places for friends, families, couples, and communities, and games can help create a more welcoming, fun, and inclusive space.
While giant Jenga and Catan are new to the scene, people have played games while drinking for as long as they've been drinking (a while). Ancient Greeks drank and played a game called Kottabos, a simple game tossing debris at a clay target. Backgammon is one of the oldest pub games, originating in the Middle East before it made its way to English pubs in the 17th century.
Drinking has, of course, traditionally been the main activity that takes place at bars. However, this is shifting. Non-alcoholic beverages are increasingly common as many pursue sober lifestyles. Bars and cafes must adapt to provide more value to these demographics, other than just alcohol and a place to sit. And if you're starting a new bar, thinking about adding bar games is a must.
Good drinks and a nice environment will still draw customers in, but adding games to your bar or pub can bring in larger crowds, different demographics, provide more value for your guests, and increase sales and tips for your bar.
Why Add Games to Your Bar, Brewery, or Coffee Shop
The minimum expectation from patrons when going to a bar or cafe is a beverage and a place to sit. With so many bars to choose from; many patrons are looking for a little more than the bare minimum. Games are a great way to add value to your bar, brewery, or coffee shop without changing the core of your business. Here are a few reasons to add games to your business:
- Create a more relaxed and social atmosphere, leading to increased customer loyalty and repeat business.
- Improve your bottom line by increasing your revenues and profits. Games give incentives to stay longer, and when guests stay longer, they are more likely to spend more money at your establishment.
- Promote your brand and build customer awareness.
- Differentiate your business from competitors. You may have a similar draft list to the bar down the street, but games can help make yours more fun.
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Choosing The Right Games For Your Bar
Not every bar can have every game (unless you're Barcade), and the right games for your business depend on a few factors.
As a bar owner or operator, you probably know your customers very well — their age, interests, spending habits, etc. With this information, you can choose the right game for those who regularly appear at your establishment. Or, on the flip side, you can use games to attract new demographics and customers that may not come to your bar. If 25-35 years old is the average age of your customer, chances are a trivia night will encourage regular locals to bring in their groups of friends. You live in a college town, but flocks of older students don't frequent your bar- setting up a few tables for beer pong and offering karaoke will probably fix that.
On top of knowing what your customers want, you'll also need to consider your business's budget and ability to facilitate games. Cards, board games, and some cornhole boards are affordable; a pool table or arcade cabinet are much larger expenses that may have extra considerations.
Space & Noise
Does your establishment have an outdoor area? If so, you can take advantage of games that require more space. If your bar is more of a cozy, intimate space, board and card games will fit the space best.
This is especially important if you run a restaurant as well as a bar or if you generally have a quieter atmosphere. You don't want the game to be so loud that it's disruptive to other customers, so it's important to consider the game's volume and overall footprint.
Lastly, once your bar implements games, you must ensure everything continues running smoothly. No one wants to walk up to a dart board and not have darts. A ping pong table missing paddles is pointless. What happens if your trivia night announcer doesn't show up? Always have a back-up plan, and be aware that adding games at your bar may require maintenance and extra staff.
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30 Ideas for Bar Games, From Checkers to Cornhole
Classic Bar Games
The crack and roll of a pool ball and whirr of a dart is as synonymous with bars as the clink of a glass. When it comes to bar games, pool and darts reign supreme. They're fun to play, keep people eating and drinking, and invite groups to get together and stay a while.
1. Pool (Billiards)
Pool is a no-brainer for a game that many of your customers will love, no matter the demographic. You'll, of course, need space for a pool and the players to move around, and one table can cost $2,000-$3500. You can charge patrons to play or ask for a cover fee at the entrance.
If a dart board is up on the wall, customers will always be playing. This game is typically only played with two people, so consider adding multiple boards or other games. There are even magnetic or digital dart boards that are safer. No matter, be prepared to have extra darts on hand for those that go missing or break. You'll need to have a designated darts area to avoid damaging your walls, floors, or furniture; otherwise, it's a no-brainer.
For those of drinking age, arcade games are a perfect way to provide a sense of childhood nostalgia. On top of buying drinks, patrons also pay to play each game, bringing on more revenue.
Beyond the casual player, you can host leagues and tournaments at your bar to bring in some extra business on slower days of the week. Railyard Billiards and Pub hosts leagues for the cult classic golf game Golden Tee on Friday nights.
Of course, the right game for your bar depends on your space and clientele. You can find tons of great arcade cabinet options from Arcade1Up.
3. Classic cabinets
The classics are classic for a reason: they have mass appeal. Arcade games like Pac-Man (especially the cool table version), Galaga, Space Invaders, Frogger, and Donkey Kong are among the best games to add to any bar.
4. Sports arcade games
Appeal to every sports fan with great sports arcade games. Classics like NBA Jam, Big Buck Hunter, NFL Blitz, and the aforementioned Golden Tee will draw the interest of any sports fan, young and old.
5. Pinball machines
The best part about Pinball is the creative lights, sounds, and designs. There's a pinball machine for every theme, from the Wild West to Outer Space and everything in between.
6. Fighting and brawler games
The only bar fights you should ever be happy about should be on a screen. Let patrons get competitive with classic fighting games like Street Fighter II, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Mortal Kombat. Fighting games are also ripe for tournament play.
7. Bocce ball
This leisurely game has roots in Italy and is perfect for small groups who prefer to move around with their drinks. Although associated with older crowds, this can be an enjoyable all-ages game for a mellow afternoon. It requires sets of bocce balls and a “pitch”. While best played outside, bars like Brooklyn's Union Hall have figured out how to make it work indoors.
Bocce is the name of the game at LOB Toronto
Cornhole is a perfect game to set up if your bar or pub has an outdoor patio. This set-up is affordable (around $25-$70), and is a game that customers often look for when going out to a bar with friends. It's easy to learn, play, and is great for groups, couples, or families.
9. Giant Jenga or Connect Four
Jenga and Connect Four are great. But they're even more fun when giant-sized. Due to the big nature of these games, they're ideal for an outdoor space.
10. Horseshoes or ring toss
This is a great game to have alongside corn hole and be set up for around $60-$100. Although the payoff for this game may not be obvious, it can encourage patrons to linger longer and sip on a few beers while playing.
Card, Board, and Dice Games
11. Decks of cards
One deck of cards can result in hundreds of games, from Go Fish to Old Maid. It's fairly cheap to add, and decks are easily replaced.
Jan Steen's “Argument over a Card Game” c. 17th century
12. Modern card games
Beyond a deck of 52, modern card games are a great addition for younger crowds. Card games such as Cards Against Humanity, UNO!, Monopoly Deal, and Exploding Kittens are on their way to becoming classics. Each game is affordable, ranging from $15-$45, so you can keep a few on hand.
13. Classic board games
You can't go wrong with Checkers, Chess, Dominoes, or Backgammon. These familiar games are user-friendly, affordable and perfect for small groups of all ages. Other great board games include:
14. Settlers of Catan and other strategy games
While not as straightforward, strategy board games take a while to play (more food and drinks!) and draw groups of friends. While slightly more expensive than simpler board games, these strategy game are still a great inexpensive game option.
Drinks, snacks, and games at Snakes & Lattes
Social and group games
15. Trivia Night
Trivia night is a classic bar game that draws in new customers who may not have been to your bar before. This game attracts groups of friends and trivia teams and will result in a packed bar, especially if a prize is offered and you market this event well. The cost of this game is quite low - you can make up your own questions and run the night with your staff; you may need to purchase a mic. Teams can pay to enter (and get a free drink for each player with the entry fee), and you can leave out a tip jar for the host.
is another crowd-pleaser that will bring in groups of college students, birthday parties, and bachelor/bachelorette parties. This will be one of the more pricey choices because your bar will need microphones, speakers, amplifiers, and a screen for lyrics. An all-in-one karaoke set-up can be purchased anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand, depending on how nice the set-up is. Participants can be charged by the hour or per song.
Bingo isn't just for retirement homes. It's an easy, all-ages game that can be played with large groups. It's a great way to attract a large crowd, too, and a great event for traditionally slow nights.
18. Murder mystery
Host a murder mystery night at your bar to draw in a large group on a day of the week that is typically slow for your bar. There are many ways to run this game, but the idea is to create a script and a set of clues to determine which character (either an imaginary person or someone in the bar) committed the fictional murder. This can be low-cost or pricey, depending on whether you buy a game kit or purchase costumes and decorations. Participants can purchase a ticket to join the night.
19. Movie nights and screenings
Instead of choosing between staying in or going out, you can let your customers have a perfect mix of both. Your bar can advertise playing fan-favorite movies on certain nights (Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings are a few ideas) and create a list of rules for when patrons must drink. Perhaps a sip from your drink when someone casts a spell?
20. Couple's night
Your bar can offer the perfect date night by creating a couple's night filled with team games. The options are endless here - you can do games like trivia about each other or put couples up against each other in games like Jenga and beer pong. Offer “two-for-one” drink deals to keep the drinks flowing.
Sports Games: Shuffleboard, Air Hockey, Ping Pong
Playing giant shuffleboard at Royal Palms
Shuffleboard can take on many forms, from a tabletop game to the size of the room like at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn and Chicago. It's great for casual play or leagues, too.
22. Air Hockey and Foosball
Fast-paced and exciting, the table versions of hockey and soccer have fans of all ages. While only two at a time can play, games end quickly, allowing groups to gather and stay a while.
23. Ping Pong (Table Tennis)
This is another more active game requiring space in your bar for players to move around. If you have the space for this, ping pong can draw in lively crowds of all ages. Although only 2-4 people can play at a time, games typically have a quick turnover rate. Consider netting off a small area to prevent filling your space with flying ping pong balls.
Have patrons go head-to-head to see who can sink the most shots with a pop-up basketball game. Pop-a-Shot has tons of captions available, so you can support your local NBA or NCAA teams and match your bar.
An entire article could be written on drinking games themselves - beer pong, flip cup, rat slap, and kings cup are just a few of the classics. So many variations and niche games have evolved from various colleges and regions, and your bar can feature drinking games that have arisen locally. These games are cheap to set up, typically requiring only red solo cups or a deck of cards. Larger groups can play, and the point of these games is to drink more (resulting in more cash flow for your bar).
25. Hook and Ring
This fun tabletop game has players competing to hook a ring faster than their opponent. Often paired with a shot ladder, the momentum swings back and forth losing player has to take a shot.
26. College games (Beer Pong, Flip Cup)
These games are incredibly affordable, setting your bar back only $8-$20. However, you'll need a table (double duty for the ping pong setups?) and possibly an outdoor space. If this game is set up indoors, ensure it fits your current atmosphere and customers (these games can get rowdy!).
27. Shot ski
While this is not necessarily a game, this is a super entertaining way for groups to take shots together. This set-up involves an actual ski with 4-8 holes cut into it for shot glasses. The shot glasses are filled, and patrons must be standing at the same height to lift the ski to their mouths and successfully take the shot at the same time without spilling.
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Other Fun Bar Activities
While the following aren't games per se, they are leisure activities that sit right beside games and add to the fun of going out for drinks or food.
Let guests capture the moment with an in-house photo booth. And you don't need a hulking booth that requires film refills: tech has made it possible to turn any iPad or smartphone into a photo booth with a stand and ring light. Apps like SimpleBooth and Snappic make it easy to add your own branding and for guests to share photos on social media.
Jukeboxes may be old school, but they're still a huge draw for young and old customers. Like photo booths, you no longer need a big piece of equipment—no huge cabinet filled with CDs or records. Consider adding a digital jukebox that takes requests via text message or an app-based system like TouchTunes.
30. Mechanical bull
This might be one of the more expensive options out of all of the games, but it will certainly draw in a crowd and more cash ( you can charge a few dollars for each ride). What would complete your Western-themed or whiskey bar more than a mechanical bull ride? And who doesn't want to see their friends fly off a bucking bull? Chances are anyone who rides the bull will post about it on Instagram, Snapchat, or Tik Tok.
A 7shifts employee rides the mechanical bull
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