Bar Trivia

NTN boxI spent the better part of 1991 in Campbell River, BC.  The hotel I was living at, the Anchor Inn, had a wireless trivia system in their lounge that was administered by a company called NTN (now NTN Buzztime Inc.).  There were 20 of the little I/O devices pictured in the photo that people had at their tables, and they read multiple choice trivia questions off TV monitors and entered their answers.  (Sorry for the small photo – it was the only image I could find of the old-style units.  Search Google Images for “buzztime” to see what they look like now.)

It was competitive, of course.  You played against the other people in the room and also against other bars all across North America.  People vied for top individual score, and everyone playing at one location also had their scores averaged to find the smartest room on the continent.  There were sometimes thousands of establishments online at once, and to get our little “ANCHOR INN, CAMPBLL RVR, BC” on the top 20 screen was quite a thrill.

This is exactly the sort of interactivity that engages people and makes them stay longer at a bar, return more frequently, and invite other people along.  I can think of many similar examples, including a pub in Cochrane, Alberta that my sister-in-law used to go to every week for “Name That Tune.”  It was a fiercely competitive event where teams of mostly middle-aged people would try and guess song titles and artists.  She had a riot, and the bar was packed every week on what would otherwise be a quiet evening.

I even invented a similar draw for the fledgling bartender that worked the normally DEAD Saturday/Sunday afternoon shifts at Grumpy’s Bar when I worked there in the 80s.  I suggested that he start some kind of ongoing contest and give free beer to the winners.  We settled on Trivial Pursuit, but not played on the board – he read the 12 questions on 2 randomly chosen cards to everyone in the bar, and the patrons wrote down their answers.  The person with the most correct got the free drink.  It was played every half hour and people who otherwise might have left tended to hang around for “just one more try.”  I won’t pretend that we created a huge sensation, but sales for those two shifts did rise from a couple of hundred to five or six hundred.  And stats on the Buzztime site promise a 47% increase in spending per patron when they’re playing on the system.

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4 Responses to “Bar Trivia”

  1. If It’s Not Working, Don’t Keep Doing It « About Bars & Marketing Says:

    […] There’s nothing wrong with a loyalty program, as a matter of fact I think it’s a pretty good idea.  Anchor Bucks in particular were not spendable on the date they were issued, so they required the patron to return at another time to redeem them.  That’s clever, because people don’t usually go to bars alone, so even if they have enough Anchor Bucks to buy all their own drinks (highly improbable), they will be bringing their friends’ money in too.  It was also clever to tie the awarding of the bucks to an activity that tends to keep people in the bar (the trivia game). […]

  2. Derek K. Miller Says:

    I used to play a lot of NTN when I was in the band full time and we were touring around the province. Alas, we never went to the Anchor Inn in 1991, even though we played Campbell River numerous times, or you and I might have met a few years earlier.

    I’m pretty sure my wife and I did play NTN there in 1997, and got the evil eye from whoever was the regular winner at the bar when we stole his top trivia score spot for the night.

  3. sbroox Says:

    What was your 6-char player name? I was HIHOAG. Think lone ranger…

  4. Show Me the Money « About Bars & Marketing Says:

    […] — sbroox In an earlier post, I wrote about the power that a friendly competition like a trivia contest has to keep patrons in your bar and keep them coming back.  Another sure-fire trick is to induce […]


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