With Mark Kwiatkowski from Replay Lincoln Park.
In this episode we talk to Mark Kwiatkowski who owns Replay Lincoln Park, a ‘barcade’ venue in Chicago that’s both a bar and arcade. Mark has a lot of experience working in hospitality and has great advice for venue and event managers.
Mark has had a lot of success running themed pop-up events as part of the promotional strategy for Replay Lincoln Park. The venue is converted with a new themed experience, such as their recent Game of Thrones experience. The GOT pop-up ran for a few months earlier this year and was highly successful, receiving significant media attention.
The pop-up events at Replay often promote themselves, gaining national media coverage that includes TV and radio spots, features on Thrillist.com, Travelandleasure.com, Lonlelyplannet.com and newspaper articles.
Listen now or read the show notes below
Mark Kwiatkowski has extensive experience in hospitality, as an owner and manager of bars and venues for the past 25 years. Mark owns a bar/arcade venue in Chicago called Replay Lincoln Park, which runs highly successful themed pop-up events as part of their ongoing promotional strategy.
- About Replay Lincoln Park
- Why a pop-up event strategy for a bar or venue is good for business
- Benefits of online ticketing for a pop-up experience (for the venue and customers)
- Bringing a theme to life with a creative team
- Integrating pop-up themes with ongoing weekly events
- Investing in a unique experience that attracts media interest and encourages word of mouth promotion
- What you must remember when running a hospitality event
About Replay Lincoln Park
Replay Lincoln Park is a 9000 square foot arcade bar in Chicago. While drinking craft beer, premium spirits or speciality cocktails, guests can enjoy over 65 vintage arcade games, pinball, skeeball, air-hockey and bubble-hockey, all on free play. They have DJ’s Thursday through Saturday nights, and weekly events such as trivia, bingo and karaoke.
In addition to being an arcade bar open year round, Replay hosts themed pop-up experiences that run for a limited time. Converting the venue into a new immersive experience every few months.
Replay's Pop-up Event Themes have included:
- The Simpsons - Moe’s Tavern
- Rick and Morty - Blips and Chips A Space Arcade
- Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Patty’s Pub
- Star Wars - Wretched Hive Cantina (May the Fourth be With You)
- The Office - Dunder Mifflin Inc
- Pokémon Go - You’ve got to drink em all (Pokémon Festival)
- South Park - Satan’s Sweet 16 / Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Halloween)
- Friends - Central Perk including the iconic couch, Rachel & Monica’s apartment, Joey & Chandler’s apartment
- Game of Thrones - with various parts of Westeros
- Fyre Festival
- SpongeBob SquarePants - Salty Spittoon at Bikini Bottom
Why a pop-up event strategy for a bar or venue is good for business
Pop-up event strategies work because it’s something new and creates a sense of urgency. People want to come in and have the experience before it’s gone.
Replay’s themed pop-ups are designed as an immersive experience to appeal to loyal pop-culture fans, keeping people coming back for new experiences. There are three important elements to this strategy.
Attract a wider audience into the venue
Tapping into a built-in pop culture fan base, enables Replay to appeal to a broader audience. It entices people to try the venue who otherwise may not have considered attending. When Replay delivers on a great experience, attendees are more likely to turn into ongoing customers.
Events deliver attendee lists
Hosting events that require people to buy tickets or sign up, allows the venue to build their customer database. This is incredibly valuable for ongoing promotion and developing relationships with those customers.
Keeping people coming back by offering something new
The evolving themes keep the venue fresh and exciting with something new to come in and experience. Regular visitors get the same fun experience, with a new engaging theme.
The benefits of online ticketing for a pop-up experience (for the venue and customers)
While having large volumes of customers eager to experience Replay’s pop-up attractions is great for business, it became important to maximize attendance capacities over time. This is both good for customers and the venue.
For the Customers:
- Customers can book ahead and know that they aren't going to have to wait in long lines in the cold or be turned away at the door. It makes planning a fun night or special occasion easier. This is particularly important for group bookings, parties and people traveling long distances for the experience.
- Customers can self-serve and quickly view available booking times in an online calendar.
- Payment processing and customer data is secure by using a credible ticketing company
For the Venue:
- The venue maximizes bookings by showing all available times and spreading attendance over the duration of the pop-up.
- Partnering with a ticketing company allows the venue to automate much of this process, minimizing enquiries and manual handling.
- A platform like Ticketbud is set up to maximize ticket sales, including mobile optimized event pages and checkout.
- Ticket packages can include items like t-shirts where you can get attendees to submit their size when they book a ticket. This makes ordering branded material and merchandise much easier.
Bringing a theme to life with a creative team
Replay Lincoln Park doesn’t do a halfhearted theme, they really get into it. Customers love how they find or create authentic looking props to immerse you in the experience. Replay goes all out, from the huge Games of Thrones dragons and the Iron Throne, to the famous Central Perk couch.
The creative design and production that goes into this comes from a dedicated pop-up design team. A team of six artists (including one of the bartenders, who is also a trained fine artist) get together to brainstorm how to bring the next themed pop-up to life. Most of the experience is hand crafted by them.
Integrating pop-up themes with ongoing weekly events
At Replay, the changing pop-up themes are integrated into the regular weekly events such as trivia, bingo and karaoke. The familiar favorites that regular customers enjoy are always there, but they get infused with new themes.
The demand was so high for The Office themed trivia that the venue regularly reached capacity and had lines out the door. Replay had to start taking reservations and schedule trivia 5 nights a week to cater to demand.
Investing in a unique experience that attracts media interest and encourages word of mouth promotion
If you are offering a truly unique experience with great visuals, people are more likely to share and talk about it, and media interest is more likely.
This has been the case for Replay and their themed pop-up events, with customers eagerly sharing on social channels, and the events gaining significant coverage in the media.
Key Tip - Create Instagram worthy photo opportunities! Then people are advertising for you.
What you must remember when running a hospitality event
Mark emphasizes that paying attention to the details is key!
The core of it is paying attention to the details. Getting those things right... All the little details are what creates a memorable experience for the guest.Mark Kwiatkowski
While you might be bringing in a big name DJ, or organizing an amazing event, you can’t lose sight of the smaller details that can make or break. Ensure the venue is comfortable, the air conditioning works, the drinks are consistent, the staff are friendly, and things in the venue are working. All the expense and effort that goes into an event can be wasted if people aren’t greeted nicely at the door. It can be as simple as that.