Is there any one date on the calendar that inspires as much joy in people of all ages as October 31st? Halloween truly has something for everybody and, save for a few killjoys, the season is beloved. It has even become immune to the backlash against seasonal creep that Christmas has fallen prey to in recent years. The Halloween season really starts off the push towards the end of the year; one minute you’re carving pumpkins and before you know it, you’re toasting with champagne on December 31st.
But for now let’s talk about how your bar or restaurant can lean into the Halloween craze to create an unforgettable Halloween season for your guests.
Using Decorations & Ambience to Set the Tone
As much as we all might like to turn our restaurants into full-fledged haunted houses, the sheer magnitude of some Halloween decorations renders the idea impractical. That’s not to say you can’t spooky up your décor, but a minimalist approach can really do more for you than going all out.
Depending on your local ordinances, candlelight—whether real or artificial—can allow you to dim your house lights and help set a haunting mood. Artificial cobwebs and dark lace (not to be used in conjunction with real candles) allow you to the darken the room but still leave it functional.
Decorating each tabletop could be costly, and limits your ability to market to your guests, so any creepy decorations should be concentrated on more communal spaces—walls, pathways, host stands, etc. Again, you don’t need to make your restaurant look like the clubhouse for your Joy Division fan club, but a little bit of black can go a long way. A few dark wreaths and flowers can supply all the macabre you need.
Scary Sights & Sounds
If your clientele will let you get away with not airing sports on every TV, old black and white horror movies can be a fun way to incorporate your screens into the environment. Nothing gory or overtly terrifying here; we’re talking Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney. They may seem more silly than scary these days, but a little nostalgia will absolutely fit the spirit of the season.
Along those same lines, your playlist is one of the easiest ways to set the mood. There are plenty of premade lists on Spotify and other music streaming services, should you be too busy to make your own. If you do take the time to cultivate your own music, though, theme songs to classic horror movies make for a great start. If you’d rather not go over the top with it, there are plenty of songs from modern bands that can give you the creeps without bringing up vampires, ghouls, and goblins. Radiohead, Depeche Mode, and The Cure can hit the notes you’re looking for, but feel free to use your own personal tastes to curate the soundtrack.
Play with Your Food (and Drink)
Above all else, Halloween should be fun. Why should your guests have all that fun, though? Let your restaurant’s staff get in on the action, particularly from a creative standpoint. This is one of the few times out of the year that I can endorse renaming your menu items or creating specials with some groan-worthy puns—I Scream Sundaes, Monster Mashed Potatoes, Boo-berry Cobbler, you get the idea. On the cocktail side of things, Blood Orange Mimosas or cosmos, “Poison” Apple Martinis, and pumpkin beers will take care of your thirsty guests.
Don’t Forget to Market Your Restaurant’s Halloween Festivities
What Halloween celebration would be complete without a costume contest? Offering prizes (i.e. gift cards to your own restaurant) is a cost-effective way to get people in the building as well as create the atmosphere you’re looking for on this night. Promoting the contest on Facebook and any other channels you use can get plenty of eyes on your efforts. Advertising the prizes is a great hook, but make sure you also mention the specials you’ll be offering as well as any other activities you’ll be hosting (bobbing for apples, “Triller” dance-off, pumpkin carving contest, etc.).
Any seeds you plant this October can be harvested next year as well. You’ll need a dedicated staff member to document the evening for Instagram and your other social media pages. Nothing says fun to potential diners like a bunch of people in costumes with drinks in their hands. This will not only help your current partygoers reminisce, but also lay the foundation for your marketing campaign next Halloween.
In a sense, Halloween can really dictate how your restaurant finishes the calendar. It’s a time to be playful and experimentative, which when properly conveyed to your customers, can set you apart and make your restaurant an experience rather than just a destination. Bonds forged in the fall stay strong throughout the winter, so make sure your guests have an unforgettable night with you on All Hallows’ Eve.