You’ve no doubt seen a movie or two where the central characters head to a club, waltz straight into a VIP area and chug away on seemingly endless bottles of champagne and vodka all night.
This depiction of what is known as ‘bottle service’ (although it’s sometimes referred to as simply ‘table service’) is actually pretty accurate.
But you never see the bill, do you?
Trust us - it was big. In fact, bottle service has the potential to make your venue an awful lot of money if you get it right. And it all starts with this guide.
What is bottle service?
Bottle service is super simple to get your head around. It involves venues such as nightclubs and bars offering guests the opportunity to buy an entire bottle of liquor in exchange for reserved seating.
There’s lots of fancy marketing wrapped around bottle service, of course, and the reserved seating area is made to look as ‘VIP’ as possible. As a result, bottle service is ideally suited to social media marketing and promotion, and venues are likely to enjoy plenty of user-generated content on platforms like Instagram as a result of offering the service.
Bottle service is usually extremely expensive when viewed from the raw purchase price of the bottle. These days, guests can expect to pay anywhere from $500 upwards for a single bottle of liquor. But the value lies in the entire experience and the scarcity and exclusivity of the VIP areas in which the drink is consumed.
As you might expect, bottle service typically attracts either wealthy clientele, celebrities, influencers or parties celebrating something particularly special.
The history of bottle service
Bottle service isn’t new. It’s thought that it can be traced back as far as the 1940s. However, it was in 1988 where a Paris nightclub reportedly enabled patrons to reserve a table for a fee and receive a complimentary bottle of booze, thus kick-starting the modern era of bottle service.
Fast-forward to 2001 and bottle service was becoming a pretty big deal across the United States. In clubs like Bungalow 8 and Lotus, a bottle of Grey Goose could fetch as much as $500 in exchange for an exclusive VIP table.
Bottle service hasn’t really changed to this day in terms of the theory behind it, but there are a growing number of apps that are now available to make booking such experiences as easy as possible.
More importantly, from a marketing perspective, bottle service is now ideally suited to influencer marketing. Give an influencer a VIP table for the night and the potential reach for your venue on social media and platforms like YouTube is astronomical.
The bottle service experience: it’s all about the seating area
You can’t sell a massively overpriced bottle of liquor without providing the right experience to go with it. The people who buy this service might be wealthy, but they’re not daft.
The good news is that this is actually relatively straightforward if your venue has the right areas that can be transformed into VIP seating.
The more inviting you make such spaces look, the more likely you are to sell lots of bottle service experiences. The idea is to create a space that makes the guests feel like they’re receiving a service that’s a step above everyone else’s in the venue. Think elite, special and exclusive, and you’re along the right lines.
Here are four examples of bottle service VIP areas that work brilliantly
Dais platforms: These raised seating areas provide a great vantage point for your VIP guests and elevates the special spot for everyone else to see and lust after.
Luxury: By simply adding a touch of luxury to a specific seating area, you can make it the perfect place for bottle service. Higher quality fabrics, lush lighting and bold colours should do the trick.
Private cabana: If you run a venue with a pool bar or beach, a cabana is a brilliant way to create perceived privacy and exclusivity within a crowded environment.
Rope it off: Nothing says “if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in” better than a rope laid across the entrance to a specific seating area in your club.
Do you need bottle servers for bottle service?
There’s an argument to say that bottle service guests should receive special treatment from staff, too, and one way to do that is to reserve some team members as bottle servers.
Just bear in mind that bottle serving is a job in its own right and needs experience and training if you’re to make the most of it. For instance, bottle service, by its definition, is set up for some very profitable upselling opportunities, but staff need to know how to spot them and take advantage.
Bottle servers also need to be well versed with signs of intoxication and possess the ability to deal effectively and calmly with rowdy guests. They’ll need a keen eye for guests who are in danger of outstaying their welcome and not maximising their spend while in the VIP area, too.
If bottle service is something you’re only testing out, make sure you spend some time with you existing team to train them on what’s required.
If it really takes off, you might consider promoting some of them to bottle servers or bringing in additional staff.
How to get your bottle service pricing right
Bottle service isn’t a free ticket to massively marked-up wet sales. You have to be smarter than that.
It starts, once again, with the service you’re offering. If you can get that VIP area right and make the entire bottle service experience something that delivers real value for a specific type of guest, then you can begin pricing those bottles.
The nice thing about bottle service is that the pricing works best when it’s simple. This is why most bottle service options quote nothing more than the price of the bottle. There are no add-ons (until you sit down - remember those up-sells) or hidden costs; the bottle simply costs $X, and for that you get the area for as long as you like.
It’s then up to the staff to keep those bottles flowing (which they should, if you attract the right clientele).
As for the pricing of your bottles, it depends significantly on your location and what others in your area are charging. Do some research but remember that you need to throw conventional mark-up principles for wet sales out of the window. If you think you can legitimately charge $1,000 for a bottle of vodka and make a 1000% profit based on the experience you’re offering, that’s completely fine.
Some of the biggest clubs in the US have been known to charge up to $7,500 for a bottle.
Wrapping up: is bottle service for you?
Bottle service certainly isn’t for every venue. It suits bars, clubs and even restaurants, but there are a few questions to ask yourself before trying it out:
Do you have the space for bottle service areas?
- If you do have the space, do you have the budget to make them as ‘VIP’ as possible?
- Do you have enough staff to cover bottle service?
- Are there any potential negative consequences of bottle service for your venue’s brand image?
Our advice is to give bottle service a trial run if you’re interested. If it works and you can forecast a healthy new line of revenue going forward - expand your bottle service plans. If it doesn’t feel right or there’s little take up, you’ll have lost nothing if you decide to pull back.