The bar night – a lucrative fundraising method often used by campus groups – has drawn criticism in one Big Ten college town because of perceived problems with underage drinking. In Ann Arbor, the bar night is alive and well, and it’s one of the most convenient moneymakers for University of Michigan student groups.
After busts at several Northwestern University bars for underage drinking, the city council of Evanston, Ill., considered banning minors from bar nights. Despite concerns about underage drinking in the bars, the city council decided to renew a regulation allowing minors to attend bar nights in the city. The new law allows student groups at Northwestern to hold a maximum of 40 bar nights per year with students 18 and older attending past midnight.
But for a student group at the University of Michigan trying to find a way to connect members and raise money without spending a lot of money up front, a bar night remains a popular – and legal – method.
At an Oct. 11 bar night at Touchdown Café, the University’s chapter of Dance Marathon received 80 percent of all cover charges collected. About 400 people attended showed up, each indirectly donating $4 of the $5 cover charge to Dance Marathon. That raised about $1,600 for the group.
Dance Marathon external director and LSA senior Steve Crompton arranged the evening with the bar and sent e-mails and Facebook invites about the night to Dance Marathon members.
Touchdown Café collected all the money for drinks, but it provided music and a venue for free.
Student groups bring guests and the hosting venue manages the rest, making bar nights an attractive proposition for campus groups.
“(Bar nights) are a high return-on-investment fundraiser,” Crompton said.
For smaller student groups, bar nights can be the cheapest way to hold a fundraising or social event, he said. Groups hoping to hold such nights at on-campus locations would have to hire a DJ, provide drinks and snacks and prepare and clean up the event themselves.
For a large group like Dance Marathon, booking bar nights is straightforward. Long-standing relationships with campus bars mean the group rarely has to fight for space at venues.
But smaller groups, like the American Movement for Israel, also hold bar nights because the events can be an effective fundraiser, said AMI Chair Naomi Karp.
“It’s usually really easy,” she said. “(The bars) know they’re going to get more people than normal.”
Crompton and Karp said they don’t think bar nights promote underage drinking. Although the majority of their members are under 21, they both said the focus of the nights isn’t on alcohol because the fundraising money comes only from cover charges, not drink sales. Crompton said that in e-mails to group members, he and other group leaders remind students that underage drinking won’t be tolerated.
Touchdown Café general manager Scott Meinke said his venue hosts about three bar nights per month. To help cut down on the type of underage drinking that has plagued bar nights at other schools, Meinke brings in extra security on these nights. He said there’s never been a problem with underage drinking at bar nights.
University policies prohibit student groups from buying alcohol with University funds, but because bar nights don’t require groups to purchase alcohol, there are no University rules against student groups holding the events, said Susan Wilson, the University’s director of student activities and leadership.
Although it’s not prohibited, Wilson said she would prefer to see student groups sponsor fundraisers at other locations to reduce the risk of underage drinking.
“Because we have a predominantly undergraduate population, going to the bar is a not a great venue for them,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the University would instead like to see student groups take advantage of University locations to hold fundraisers.
Meinke said he is glad to host bar nights because they raise attendance for Touchdown Café on slower nights of the week, like Mondays and Tuesdays, with little effort from the bar. The bar owners can simply use Facebook or Myspace to advertise the event or let student groups do the majority of advertising.
At other bar nights, alcohol plays a significantly smaller role than it does at places like Touchdown Café. Jason Garrity, general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings, said only about 30 percent of revenue comes from alcohol when groups host fundraisers at his restaurant. The other 70 percent comes from food purchases.
At Buffalo Wild Wings, participating group members attach a coupon to their receipts, and the restaurant sends the group 20 percent of the sales. The group only has to distribute discount coupons for the event.
Garrity said that for the restaurant, fundraising nights mean bringing in additional wait staff for the evening or possibly preparing a little extra food.
With 50 group members attending a fundraising night, Garrity said the restaurant would see a 15 percent increase in sales from an average off-peak night. He said some fundraisers have attracted as many as 200 extra customers.