Hallowe’en has become one of the entertainment highlights in many pubs calendars, so getting the most out of this trading opportunity is important, not only for its own sake but also in establishing the “credentials” of your pub in your market place. It can set the tone for your entire offering and is an important sign post on the road to the most important trading periods of Xmas & New Year. In the last pub I ran, one of the things we decided on from the outset was that just as Christmas Day always falls on December 25th, so Hallowe’en always falls on October 31st – not on the Friday before or the nearest Saturday and by sticking to this you can provide a useful point of difference to many other venues who will hold their parties “on or around” the 31st.
Setting The Scene
Another thing we set our minds to was to really go to town with the decorations for our inaugural Hallowe’en party. Of course, we were on a budget, as with any of our business activities, but with a bit or research, some judicious purchasing and a little foraging we were able to completely trim one side of the pub for our party.
We were fortunate enough to have two separate bar areas, so some of what follows may not work for you. We deliberately left the smaller side of the pub that comprised of our pool room and snug bar (complete with dartboard) free of decoration for two reasons. Firstly there are plenty of people out there who don’t enjoy the whole Hallowe’en ‘thing’ and secondly as we were going full tilt at transforming the larger part of the pub for the evening we had decided to shut that part of the pub down whilst we worked.
By shutting down a significant part of our trading area for the day you might think we were mad, but it worked on several levels. Signs to tell customers that the main part of the pub would be closed until the evening for the Hallowe’en party, added to the advertising we had placed around the pub, online on our website, invites by Facebook etc all created interest about the event.
We were able to work uninterrupted in dressing the rooms and preparing some of the games for the evening and by blacking out the windows and shutting off the area we were able to create a buzz from passers by and regular customers alike as they tried to work out what we were up to.
Top Tip – if you can, change the message on your EPOS till display to advertise your party and change the message on your till receipts too.
Making the pub as dark and eerie was relatively inexpensive, yards and yards of blackout were sourced from a hardware store in the form of weed suppressing fabric; lamps from wall brackets were replaced with a combination of flickering candle lamps and black-light lamps, lamps above the bar were replaced with red and orange lamps. Careful shopping on-line for various skulls, backdrops, hangings, bats etc were used to decorate the bar and the room. A couple of large generic “antique” portraits inherited with the pub were covered over with ghoulish portraits by a local artist. The trailing ivy, which was in danger of taking over the rear porch and walls of the pub, was harvested to swathe around wall lights, chandeliers, balustrades etc. A trio of hand-carved pumpkin lanterns along the bar added the traditional touch (if you’re concerned about using lit candles, then use electronic tea lights instead). All in all spending was limited to about £300, which, may seem a lot, but by carefully saving as much as possible for future parties the cost isn’t that much.
For great tips on carving pumpkins click here.
Top Tip – The layout and position of all the main decorations etc was noted on a plan, so that when we saved the hangings etc for the following year we knew where everything would go. Something we did not only for Hallowe’en, but every time we trimmed the pub.
So with the place decorated and looking suitably “festive” we concentrated on the setting ourselves up for our party. As I have said all successful parties are based on the same elements…
Zombie Fingers: using hot dog frankfurter sausages, cook them off and allow to cool. Cut in half length ways and then again along the midpoint to create four flat bottomed fingers. At the round ends gently carve out a nail-bed. Take some flaked almonds and carefully arrange some flakes in each nail-bed to create some cracked finger nails. Now take some red vegetable based food dye and with a cocktail stick draw on the knuckle creases. Pop the completed Zombie Fingers on a tray covered with alfalfa sprouts mounded in the middle for a great looking snack to give away at your party. (Don’t forget to do some Quorn or other veggie sausages in the same way for the vegetarians).
Dead Man’s Eyes: Hard boil a dozen eggs (makes 24 eyes), cut them in half (along the midline between pointy and round end) scoop out the cooked yolk and put to one side. Now take some green vegetable food dye and dilute in a bowl of water, place the cooked egg white halves in the water and leave for a couple of hours covered in a fridge. When the egg whites have taken up the food dye you can take them out and let them dry on a baking wire. Combine the cooked egg yolks with a little mayonnaise to create a paste you can fill the egg whites (or should that be egg greens?) Pop a black, pitted olive into each completed egg. Now using the red food dye from the Zombie Fingers, carefully add some thin red “blood shot” streak from the olive in the centre of the egg to the edges. Again, serve on a platter with alfalfa sprouts.
Scary Pumpkin Pizza: no, not a pizza topped with pumpkin (not very appetising for most punters) – just a way of topping very cheap tomato pizzas with coloured cheese (the brighter orange the colour the better) and loads of pitted black olives suitable arranged to make up the eyes, mouth and nose of the traditional scary pumpkin. After cooking if you are careful you can cut the pizza into as many slices as you think suitable and present the cut pizza on a round platter with the design intact.
Spider Pies: short crust pastry tartlets filled with either egg-mayo (cheap and veggie friendly) or coronation chicken (always a crowd pleaser) decorated with a black olive, no need to make the tartlets perfectly round, in fact the rougher the edges, the better. Cut the olive in half along its length, put one whole half olive in the centre of the filled tartlet, cut the other half of the olive into 8 slivers and arrange around the whole half olive to make the spider’s legs. Arrange on more alfalfa and serve.
For a brilliant centre piece for your Hallowe’en buffet table here’s a tried and tested recipe for Brain Cake in pdf format for you to download.