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When Attracting Customers, There’s Nothing Trivial About Trivia

With the help of companies such as Geeks Who Drink, restaurants and bars use trivia events to draw customers.

Wednesday nights at Prairie Tap House used to be slow. That was until the Eden Prairie restaurant added a trivia night to enliven its midweek activities. Now the restaurant is full and customers stay for the full two-hour event, says GM Robert Gregg. 

With three Tap House concepts (Prairie, Lyndale and Valley) across the metro, the response to trivia night has been easy to measure. “At one of our stores it’s basically doubled our sales for the day,” says Gregg. “It’s a big deal.”

But trivia is also more work than other bar activities. Guests expect an entertaining host and new questions every week, and creating them is an arduous task. An independent host has limited resources, and restaurant managers often simply don’t have the time. Hosting a one-off or special event is feasible, but the infinite nature of trivia makes hosting weekly events a time consuming job.

Enter the pub quiz company.

“We’re going to give you the tools to make this easier than it would be without us,” says Ken Brill, marketing director for Geeks Who Drink, which started in Denver in 2005 and hosts events in 42 states, including Minnesota. 

“With an independent host who has to produce all their own questions each and every week it’s just not tenable, and the same goes for a bar,” explains Brill. “Bars frequently underestimate the amount of work that goes into producing even four rounds of trivia each week.” A professional third party can streamline the process and even give an outside marketing boost by incorporating an existing fan base.

At Prairie Tap House, Gregg works with Minneapolis-based Trivia Mafia, which also hosts spelling bees and bingo at bars. “There’s a difference between the quality of product that Trivia Mafia produces and the quality of product I would be willing to produce for my own restaurant,” Gregg notes. 

Trivia Mafia hosts events at more than 80 locations and started when co-founders Chuck Terhark and Sean McPherson wanted to see better local trivia at their neighborhood pub. In business nine years, they’ve expanded the business but the central metro is still their core. They also operate out of state, and host a few events in cities such as Fargo and Milwaukee. 

Trivia Mafia

Trivia Mafia founders Sean McPherson and Chuck Terhark work with Twin Cities bars and restaurants to build a pub quiz following.

While the goal of trivia is to have fun, but it also has to be profitable. 

“The grand majority of folks we attract come repeatedly,” says McPherson. They’re also willing to spend money at the bar or restaurant over a two-hour event, he adds. 

“Folks come to trivia night and get the babysitter and line up an evening,” he explains. The core audience is settled and has spending money but would not regularly go out on a weeknight. 

Those who come regularly don’t just follow the host bar or restaurant, points out McPherson; they follow the brand. Trivia Mafia’s email list has a 33 percent open rate, he says proudly, noting that the weekly update offers hints for upcoming events. 

“We communicate categories and a clue that incentivizes folks to go,” he adds. Customer interaction continues on social media, where Trivia Mafia uses a photo-heavy approach to capture friends on a memorable night out. 

“One of our goals is to get the person that might be heading out the door; let’s get dessert or another cocktail. Then if they do well or enjoy it, they’ll stick around. That’s certainly part of the strategy,” McPherson says. Ultimately, though, the payoff for bars isn’t the longevity of customer visits but the loyalty that the team-focused nights create.

“What we really do better than karaoke or live music and stand-up comedy is we produce repeat customers,” says Brill.

Geeks Who Drink is in nearly 750 venues across the country. “It’s certainly got more competitive,” Brill says of the trivia scene. “The word is out that pub quizzes draw people.” 

Geeks Who Drink has grown fast and large, but organically, mostly entering new markets when customers or hosts move to new cities and request their presence. At pub trivia, fans connect with the format and the host, Brill believes, in addition to a thirst for general trivia. Over the course of eight rounds, with eight questions each, Geeks Who Drink hosts pull questions from a unique, extensive database. They even have defending “Jeopardy” champion Christopher Short as chief editor.

Geeks’ relationship with bars is a partnership. 

“Essentially they pay us a regular weekly fee and for that we handle 100 percent of the details,” Brill explains, including the host, the questions, even a PA system if needed. A recognized brand provides a stamp of quality. “When you walk into an event hosted by an independent it could be anything,” Brill says. “Sometimes that’s great,” he adds, but often it’s not.

Both Trivia Mafia and Geeks Who Drink partner with restaurants to give away prizes, typically gift cards to the host restaurant. “The prizes are nice but people aren’t strategizing over the gift cards. They’re there for the pride and the gift card is a surplus benefit,” McPherson says.

Gregg agrees. “We see people come back week after week. It’s bragging rights, it’s the camaraderie you develop with staff members, the other teams and the person calling.”

Bar entertainment ebbs and flows with the times. Karaoke is a staple and everything from pull tabs to gaming devices and even electronic trivia have had their waves of popularity. Live trivia with a group, though, fits the general spirit behind the community bar in the first place. It connects neighbors, builds teams, and kindles the competitive spirit. All while the teams purchase a few rounds of drinks. 

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