How to Market Your Restaurant on St Patty’s Day if You Don’t Sell Beer

Make some extra green without a drop of alcohol.
Create a special menu for St. Patrick's Day, complete with festive treats or traditional Irish dishes. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

According to WalletHub, in 2016, about 51 percent of Americans planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Those who did planned to spend an average of $35.40 each.

It’s one of the biggest drinking days of the year — but what if your establishment doesn’t serve alcohol? No need to turn green with envy. You can still cash in.

Serve traditional Irish food

Put out a special menu for the holiday or simply offer a few Irish add-ons.

“Irish food is really great,” said Deba Wegner, a restaurant marketer and president of Recipe for Success, Inc. in Kirkland, Washington. “I mean truly, it gets a bad rap just like English food but it is wonderful, seasonal and delicious.”

When Wegner visited Ireland, she noticed that all the pubs and restaurants served lamb and seafood with vegetables on the side. Some other traditional Irish dishes include oysters, Irish stew with lamb, the potato pancake called boxty, Irish salmon, boiled bacon and cabbage, and colcannon, which is potatoes served with butter or cream and cabbage or kale and scallions.

Wegner once worked with a bar that baked Irish soda bread and served it with Irish butter. “This was a huge hit and is now on the menu year round,” she said.

Figure out who can provide you with specialty ingredients. “Find some Irish food importers to partner with or ask your large scale food service supplier to get you in touch with the representatives from Irish food producers they represent,” said Wegner.

Offer a special mocktail or shamrock shake

shamrock shake

Festive mocktails, like this shamrock shake, are a non-alcoholic way to celebrate the holiday. (Photo: vm202/Shutterstock)

Carrie Welch, co-owner of Little Green Pickle, a PR agency for food and beverage companies, suggested serving a faux cocktail for the holiday. “Treat the mocktail like a real drink. Include interesting, fresh ingredients and you can even make it green if you’d like (kale or celery juice, anyone?).”

If you have a blender, you can easily whip up a minty shamrock shake, like this one or this one.

Hire an Irish band

While in Ireland, Wegner noticed that the restaurants and pubs had live music playing all day long. She suggested inviting a folk group to play, if you have room, or hosting an open mic night for folk musicians.

Deck out your staff and space


Decorate your restaurant with paper shamrocks and tablecloths to get customers in the holiday spirit. (Photo: romantitov/Shutterstock)

According to WalletHub, 82 percent of people celebrating St. Patty’s Day wear green. If it fits with your service style, ask the staff to don Irish-inspired outfits or at least green accessories.

Welch recommended keeping your decorations classy. “One or two decorative pieces along the bar or at a focal point in the restaurant would be exciting for guests but not overwhelming,” she said. “I’m thinking one big shamrock, or green floral centerpiece.” If you want to invest a bit, go high class. “You could bring in more Celtic, vintage pieces. Special runners or tablecloths.”

Pinterest has some excellent decorating ideas for St. Patty’s Day as well. Crafty? You could create beautiful paper shamrocks to hang from the ceiling.

Host a game or contest

Some people are looking for something to actually do with their friends and family on St. Patty’s Day. Consider hosting a trivia night with Irish-focused questions, or even a limerick contest (keep it clean if your establishment is family friendly). Promote the contest in advance on social media and announce the winner on March 17. The winner gets a gift certificate for your restaurant.

Spread the word

Whether you’re offering a special menu, a band or some other celebration, get the word out. Wegner suggested writing a short press release. Contact any Irish clubs, dance groups or other Irish organizations in your area and ask them to take part.

Promote your happening on your website and through your email list and social media accounts, and advertise on your sidewalk board or with mini posters on the front door.

Not everyone wants to imbibe on St. Patty’s Day. Give those who don’t a good reason to stop by for an Irish bite or a bit o’ fun.

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