Additional writing assistance by Stephanie Barber.
If you’ve ever participated in a good trivia night in a bar, it can look almost effortless, but there are a lot of cogs in the Bar Trivia Wheel. While we have a few articles on how to run a good trivia night and things to consider while preparing, this article will serve as your definitive step-by-step guide. Whether you are the bar owner or someone who wants to set up a quiz night in a bar, this guide will break down the process on how to get it rolling.
Step 1: Find a Space and Time
If you are an individual or you belong to an organization that wants to host a trivia night, you will have to search out an appropriate venue. Because bars and pubs can be of infinitely different sizes and layouts, it’s important to understand the space you are going to need and use for an event.
For bar owners, it is difficult to know in advance how many people might turn up at an inaugural trivia night, so might be a bit of a head-scratcher to figure out what you’re going to need.
Some things to consider:
- Is there a night that the bar is especially quiet when you would like to draw in new customers? That might be a good time to get trivia enthusiasts in.
- If there isn’t an especially quiet night, and you have regulars who aren’t going to play, is there a corner of the bar that is less used, or slightly removed from the rowdiness? A separate ‘events’ room for trivia night is ideal (it means fewer interruptions from unofficial participants who might want to get drunkenly involved), but not all bars are spacious enough to have one.
- Is there a raised area or stage where a host can stand/be seen?
- Do you have enough chairs and tables, and enough table space so people can drink AND write down their answers?
For folks hoping to rent a bar for a trivia event, you’ll want to determine what area of your town or city you would like to host the event in and then visit the bars in the area to see what is available. You will want to look for a location that will be able to seat the number of people you wish to have, and it will have to have tables and chairs that can be moved around to create a space for the teams to sit while still giving waitresses easy access to each area. There also needs to be an appropriate spot for the host where he can be seen and heard by everyone. See if the venue has a sound system that can be used or if you will have to rent one to bring in.
In addition to above, make sure to ask questions about:
- How much is it to rent the venue? Sometimes you can get lucky, and bar owners will just be happy to have a guaranteed crowd who will pay for drinks and meals while they quiz, but not always (famously, a quiz team local to me would order waters or sodas only, which is definitely not lucrative for the venue); make sure any budget allows for this.
- Consider other expenses so that you know how much money you will have to put out before you make your final decision. Some bars may be willing to let you use their establishment free-of-charge in exchange for the business you will bring in. Keep that in mind when you are negotiating!
- Will there be staff available just for your event? (Note, this might add to any fees the venue may charge.)
- Will regulars be there when your event is on, or will your group have the place to themselves?
- Can the bar help provide prizes, like gift certificates (see below for more information on this) or promotional swag?
- What kind of happy hour specials does the venue have, or are they willing to have a special on snack platters or drinks for participants in the trivia night? Everyone likes a good deal so having discounts for the patrons may also help to draw more people to the event.
Step 2: Get Your Gear
Whether you own a bar and want to organize a trivia night, or just want to rent the space to hold a quiz-y event, you will have to consider some tech needs.
The kind of equipment you will need to run a trivia night can be very simple. On a budget? You really only need answer sheets, pens, and a host with a voice that can carry. Chances are, though, that you will want something slightly more high-tech.
What kind of equipment do you have or need?
- A microphone (and maybe an amp) is usually a really good idea.
- The means to play sound clips. If there are ‘Name that Tune’-style or other audio questions, you may need the means to play clips of songs. These can be played off a laptop or smartphone hooked up to an amp or stereo system with the appropriate cables, or via Bluetooth.
- A projector and screen. Do you want to have visual questions? If so, sometimes printed copies of images (a copy per team) is just dandy, but maybe you want something bigger! Some bars, especially venues that often show big sporting events might have both projectors and screens; just make sure you have the means to get your pictures on it!
- Buzzers. Don’t want to spring for physical ones? There are apps that can handle that!
- Access to a printer. How are you going to print the answer sheets? Do you have a photocopier, or will you have to rely on a nearby Mailboxes Etc. or the library?
Step 3: Assemble Your Squad
If you’ve read the above and already canNOT even, I have great news: There are trivia professionals who do this for a living! To host a well-run trivia night, it is important to have a team of people who can pull it off.
Whether you are a bar owner, or an event organizer, you can hire someone to help put things together. (Check out that link for different systems of running a trivia night, too!)
Sporcle can run your bar trivia night for you, and help you figure out what you need. If you want to go more local, there are firms all over North America, and beyond!, who can facilitate your event; where I live, the folks behind the Ottawa Trivia League can be hired to host charity events, and they also can bring their regular quizzes to your bar venue. Similar services include the New York Trivia League, Trivia LA, or the many UK-based companies listed on this very site.
If this isn’t in the budget, no problem! You need a host. You need a scorekeeper (unless you are having teams score for each other). You need someone to compile questions. You need someone with some kind of tech ability… and this can all be one person, if your event is relatively small! As your host will be receiving guests and making sure they are seated comfortably in their teams, you want to find someone who is charismatic and outgoing. The host should be confident and friendly with a flair for entertaining.
And, as mentioned above, make sure the bar has enough staff to serve drinks!
Step 4: Pick a Theme
Not all trivia needs to adhere to a specific theme, although many do!
If your bar really caters to NBA fans, maybe you want to have a sports-flavored trivia night once a week. Or perhaps you want to mix it up and feature the Simpsons one week, Game of Thrones another, and whichever other television series next. However, having a theme can sometimes backfire. Sports trivia can be its own animal, with all sorts of stats and records that casual fans will find inscrutable, and most trivia enthusiasts prefer a mix of questions and topics if they know the night is dedicated to a subject about which they know nothing, they won’t want to turn up. So, if you are going with a theme, don’t make it so specific as to alienate your audience.
But if you are organizing a one-off event, a theme might be a less complicated proposition. Maybe your trivia night is for an International Students’ Association, so a travel or geography theme would be a fun twist with plenty of leeway for a variety of questions. I worked at a cinema for a long time, and would write our Christmas party quiz around the theme of, you guessed it, movies. A cliché, sure, but it was always super fun, and there are infinite questions to ask about that broad a subject.
If you are having a theme night, why not go all-in? Have the host participate and wear appropriate attire. Hosting a trivia night with a Disney or a literature theme? Why not have someone who will dress as Belle with her book? The more in character your team can be, the more fun your guests will have!
Stumped on what kind of theme to do? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Step 5: Questions, Questions, Questions
Speaking of questions, this is the core of any good trivia night. As mentioned above, you can hire professional trivia writers to assist with your bar trivia night, which is an excellent option if you have the budget for it. Or, you can research how to write your own clever trivia questions. Writing trivia questions can take a LOT of time, and using questions from already existing games and websites can be a tricky prospect. Heck, if you are making money off of your event, the issue of question copyright can even come into play, although this is pretty rare. (What are the chances of an HQ Trivia writer coming to your trivia night, right?)
Also, keep in mind that true trivia nerds were already memorizing Trivial Pursuit questions as children. (Or was that just me?)
Plan on a few rounds, with different types of questions (multiple choice, true or false, short answer, word puzzles, photo or music identification, etc.) You can probably zip through ten true or false or multiple choice questions in about ten minutes (remember to read every question at least twice!, or a bit longer for questions where participants haven’t been given options of answers by you.)
Keep in mind the ages of participants; writing a quiz for a wide variety of ages is especially challenging! Does the team of retired engineers know what/who BTS is? Are those 20-somethings going to know who Gidget was? Probably not. So if you know you are going to have different generations competing, mix things up so no group is totally alienated by the questions.
Make sure, when accounting for time, that you consider breaks, and also scoring. If you have a scorekeeper, they can work quickly. If you are having teams mark each others’ answer sheets, that can take longer, because the host has to read out the questions (again!) and their answers.
An important note: Make sure your answers are correct.
“What do you mean, of course they are correct!”
We all make mistakes. Often, we don’t figure it out until a very smart and/or incredible pedantic person points it out.
“Actually, TWO silent films have won Best Picture, not one. Remember The Artist??”
“Plenty of people climbed Mt. Everest before Sir Edmund Hillary did, but they were locals and no one wrote it down or took photos.”
“‘Black Dog’ was definitely on Led Zeppelin IV, not III.”
Also, establish some guidelines for answers. What are you going to consider a ‘country’? Whatever the UN says? Or are you going to include Wales, too, or Taiwan? Are you going to accept just last names as answers? There can be a lot of little loopholes to worry about.
Need help coming up with questions? You guessed it, we’ve got you covered on that, too!
Step 6: The Rules of Trivia Law
Speaking of guidelines, before you start sending out information about your trivia night, whether you are the bar owner or organizing an event, make sure you have rules in place.
Important things to consider include:
- Limiting the number of teams. (For space purposes)
- Limiting the number of people per team. (Ditto – how many people can you really fit around a table, anyway?)
- Scoring. (Will teams trade answer sheets and mark each other’s after each round? Or will there be a designated scorekeeper who will score each team’s sheets? Keep in mind that the latter can take more time.)
- Preventing cheating! (Will participants have to leave their smartphones and other electronic devices at the door, or are you going to trust them not to Google answers from under the table? Are you going to limit how often people can get up and walk around and maybe eavesdrop on other tables?)
- Timing. (How long are you going to let each team work on a question/series of questions before making them hand in their sheets?)
Step 7: Promote Your Event
Who is your bar trivia night for? Bar owners should never underestimate the power of something as simple as an outside sandwich board, or flyers put up on the bathroom doors; that’s where your regulars are going to find out about trivia night. But if you are trying to attract new patrons, your bar’s social media feeds can help find them. Also, do some online recon and figure out where the local trivia fans are already hanging out online (Facebook and Reddit are a good place to start) and try to get in touch with them.
Are you organizing an event for your workplace? Tell them about it! Put up posters in the office, post about it on Facebook, or, if management is cool with it, set up a Teams event or send out an all-staff email to invite your colleagues.
And if your event is a fundraiser for a good cause, let the charity know! They will definitely want to help get the word out if your event is open to the general public.
You can even make good ol’ fashioned invitations!
Step 8: Prizes
What are your teams going to be competing for? Weekly pub quiz nights are often not super lucrative for the folks participating, and that’s fine! Bragging rights = Priceless.
But for those who want something more, and bar owners who want trivia night participants to come back, prizes are key! Gift certificates for your establishment are a great option, whether it’s $50 for the team to use next time they are in, or a free appetizer for the table. This is also a good opportunity to ask your suppliers if they have any promotion swag they can provide you with, like logoed hats or pint glasses.
If you are running a one-off trivia night, especially if it’s a charity fundraiser, try approaching local businesses to see if THEY have swag or gift certificates they would be willing to provide. Make sure to promise to talk up their business, get their logo on any of your promotional materials, and make it worth their while to help you out.
Step 9: Arrive Early
On the night of the event, you will want to arrive in time to help set everything up and prepare for the evening. Ensure the tables are set up for teams, make sure the sound system is working, and make any final preparations. You may even want to create a checklist so that you can make sure everything is in order.
The workers at your venue may take care of some of the things on the list for you, but it is still a good idea to check them off the list as you see they are completed.
Step 10: And the Most Important Thing…
This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s all in aid of a good time, so don’t forget to have fun with it! And remember to ask for help with logistics if you need it; (almost) everyone loves a good trivia night, and will want yours to succeed.
Trivia Bliss has a lot more information on running successful trivia events, so have a look around. And good luck with your bar trivia night!