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Answering the call How do you draw a crowd on a Tuesday night? Toronto’s Duke of York found the answer in a trivia league
early four years ago, you wouldn’t find a single person on the first floor of the Duke of York pub. The lower level would be locked shut. There just weren’t enough patrons to warrant opening that part of the bar.
Photography © Nicola Betts
Luke Pettigrew is the host of PubStumpers trivia night at the Duke of York
On this particular Tuesday, Craig Boutilier, manager of the Duke of York opened the doors to the lower level at 6:30pm. It’s not overly crowed upstairs but he knows in an hour’s time, he’ll have a packed house.
While the room is empty except for two wait staff preparing the bar, a few lone patrons make their way to some seats. Sarah Bassarab finds one against the wall. She waits patiently for her friends and teammates. The 26-year-old orders a pint of beer and prepares for trivia night at the Duke of York. Modelled after the original British Pub Quiz, PubStumpers is a trivia league that has cultivated a loyal following at the Duke of York and another 120 pubs across Canada and the U.S. For 12 weeks, patrons flock to the pub with their friends in tow to play eight rounds of weekly trivia. The closer the clock gets to 8pm the faster the room fills up. Soon all 80 seats are filled. For the Duke of York, partnering with PubStumpers has been a businessbuilder. Now in their 10th season, the Duke of York has increased their sales by nearly 50 per cent. “PubStumpers essentially rejuvenated this entire floor for us on a Tuesday night,” says Boutilier. “Now that we have PubStumpers, it’s given us nearly a half more business which is pretty substantial.” The cost is minimal. Boutilier says he pays $720 for each 12-week season. Sixty dollars a week pays for the trivia booklets, questions and answers, CDs with audio clips, marketing materials and pens. Since the Duke of York already had a PA system and CD player, all they needed to get started was the right host.
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The road to success Luke Pettigrew wasn’t sure about the idea when his boss first suggested it. “I didn’t see it at first, but I kind of did,” he says. A few of his friends had recently returned from a rugby trip in England and had told Pettigrew about their experience at a small pub there. “They told me the whole town came out for Pub Quiz – not just eggheads [nerds] – it was as if everyone was there,” says Pettigrew. “What my friend described was exactly what it became. We have teams across all demographics – students, professionals, all eating and drinking and having a good time.” Today, Pettigrew is the host or ‘Quizmaster’ of PubStumpers at the Duke of York. Pettigrew admits that first week was essentially eight of his friends and him – “which was ridiculous because I was amplified” – him and a room full of eight of his friends, but week after week it grew. All it took was a book club’s participation that second week, and before long, they had told their friends, and their friends had told their friends and by week seven they were up to 50 or 60 people. Pettigrew says by the end of season one, they were at capacity. They advertised with posters provided by PubStumpers, but word of mouth was more effective. “A team would bring in a friend and then the next week that friend would create another whole team with their friends to compete against the initial team,” he says. “Our bar is a success because we’ve managed to have one host throughout,” says Pettigrew. “A lot of bars just have whoever isn’t working or whoever just finished their night shift, they hand them a microphone and not everyone is adept to public speaking. You need to form friendships with these tables, and a multi-week repartee, rather than just starting again each night.”
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For the same reason, the Duke of York tries to have the same server and bartender each week. “That helps with our service because they get to know the rhythm and the flow of that night because it’s totally different,” Pettigrew says. “When people come in at the beginning they want food and beverage right now because they don’t want to be eating while they’re playing the game,” adds Boutilier. To coincide with the trivia league, the Duke of York has a $6.99 burger special for only the lower level. “So people are coming in at 7pm to take advantage of the special burger even though PubStumpers doesn’t start until 8pm,” Boutilier says. “It’s a real service challenge, one that we’ve been meeting. Because say if we do X sales in a night, we’re going to do half of those sales before I even pick up a microphone,” says Pettigrew. “That’s when they’re ordering their food and their first drink. And so if we have 80 or 100 people out in a night, 95 per cent of them are having dinner over the course of our night. A lot of people have two dinners – that’s not uncommon, since the game itself lasts three hours. Some people will have the burger special twice.” Back for more Boutilier says having the trivia league has generated repeat business as well. “A lot of people stumble onto it. They come here for dinner on a Tuesday night, we tell them we’ve got PubStumpers on downstairs, they give it a try and they get hooked, and that has them coming back every Tuesday.” On the other hand, people that would normally come on a Friday are also coming on a Tuesday, so the repeat business works both ways according to Boutilier.
10 key facts about PubStumpers Trivia League
It can also expand what the customer is buying. “We use it as an opportunity to showcase some of the great menu items we have,” says Pettigrew. “Sometimes when we do the music round, we’ll give [the team with the highest score on that round] a complimentary appetizer and then the whole room can see it going out.” As an added bonus, the Duke of York gives away gift certificates at the end of the night to the winners. While the trivia league’s sponsor, Wellington County Ale puts together a BBQ for the tournament winners. Because it’s so popular, the Duke of York consistently runs three seasons of PubStumpers a year, says Pettigrew. They take a break during Christmas and August because the pub is already so busy and people’s lives are focused on other things. But when a new season starts up, you can bet the Duke of York will have a full house.
Cost: $60 per week Season duration: 12 weeks Length of each trivia night: About two hours What you get: Trivia, players’ booklets, CDs with music clips, a training DVD for the host and staff and promotional materials such as banners, coasters and pens What you need: AP system and CD player Where it works: Bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs Demographic: 21-50 Key ingredient: The host Sample questions: Q. What liquor brand’s logo was inspired by fruit bats that lived in the rafters of the original distillery? A. Bacardi Rum Q. Of whom was a record executive speaking in 1975 in saying, “He sounds more like Peter Gabriel than Peter Gabriel”? A. Phil Collins Appeal: Improves traffic; boosts sales of food and beverage; creates repeat business
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