It’s crawling through the city of Ottawa, and spreading at an alarming rate.
The pub crawl—a half-day drinking event where teams of participants travel to six bars in the Byward Market between the hours of five and ten o’clock, competing in various games and activities. All it will cost you is $10, and that includes a team t-shirt, no cover to any of the participating bars, and discounted drinks.
The phenomenon, which is most popular among university students, has grown significantly over the last three years. Graeme Owens and Joel Schuurman are fourth-year students at Carleton University, who have organized seven pub crawls. Owens says the first event three years ago attracted 48 people. Their most recent—dubbed “Hometown Throwdown”—took place on Jan. 29, with more than 600 crawlers. Owens says the event is simple to organize because it essentially promotes itself when approaching bar owners.
“It’s the easiest pitch in the world,” says Owens. “We can guarantee 120 drinks for an hour for four hours when they’re not even going to be open. How does that sound? Great.”
It increases revenue because we’re open five hours earlier. Starting that much earlier, you’re going to move more alcohol.
Owens and Schuurman, operating under the business name Legatto Sales & Marketing, work exclusively with the York Street Entertainment Group, which owns and operates 14 bars and restaurants in Ottawa’s Byward Market.
“All those bars are fully open to us,” says Owens. “We go to the head of the group and all the information gets filtered down to the managers.”
One of those bars is The Great Canadian Cabin, which is frequently the start and end point of the pub crawl. All participants are encouraged to go back to the Cabin after finishing up all rounds of play at other bars, and can enter without paying cover.
Jason Desjardins, a manager at Cabin, says these events help take the pressure off bar staff.
“The pub crawl offers no cover, or drink deals, something like that,” he says. “And [the organizers] take the promotions and fill the bar for us.”
“It gives us, if you will, a free night to make money.”
Desjardins says hosting a pub crawl is not only advantageous for marketing, it’s just good business.
“It’s amazing,” he says. “It increases revenue because we’re open five hours earlier. Starting that much earlier, you’re going to move more alcohol.”
Desjardins adds that there are other groups that run pub crawls, such as varsity athletics teams, but the early start time, is what sets Legatto’s apart.
Challenges and Triumphs
Owens says, it wasn’t so simple when they were just starting out.
“Initially it was really hard to get bars on board because they didn’t really know us,” he says.
Now, they face the opposite problem.
“We’re running out of bars to put people in, that’s the biggest obstacle facing us,” says Owens. “I think right now the number is pretty safe, but I think we’re going to start to try and grow it some more.”
They’re great because my friends from home come to town to participate. It’s become a tradition for my friends and I as a way to reunite
Owens acknowledges that he and Schuurman could charge more per person for a pub crawl, but they don’t want to rip off their loyal customers.
“We’re not looking to make a huge profit because they’re our friends at the end of the day.”
But as the market for this type of event grows, that could change.
“It’s grown outside of our circle so it has crossed our minds a couple of times,” says Owens.
Owens says most of the $10 admission covers costs, with about 60 per cent of that for t-shirts. The rest pays for paperwork, prizes and other general costs, with Owens and Schuurman pocketing any leftovers. This usually works out to about $2-3 per person. Meaning a pub crawl with over 600 players will net the duo a profit of between $1,500 and $2,000.
As for the participants themselves, they’re pleased with the service offered by Owens and Schuurman.
“They’re great because my friends from home come to town to participate,” says Dominic Fegan, a fourth-year marketing student at Carleton. “It’s become a tradition for my friends and I as a way to reunite.”
Fegan has participated in four pub crawls. He says he spends an average of $80 per pub crawl.
“It can be a bit pricey for one night, but the experience itself is worth it.”
The future of crawling
What’s next for Legatto Sales & Marketing? Owens says they are trying to register the business officially. This would involve obtaining a proper tax revenue number, and allow the group to make purchases at wholesale prices, dramatically lowering costs.
It would be nice to get successors to keep it alive, but in the mean time, we want to keep it rolling.
“The biggest cost is the t-shirt, and that’s huge,” says Owens. “If we can halve that, then we’re doubling our profit. It’s not that simple though, there’s a lot of red tape.”
Owens and Schuurman are also looking for successors, since both will be graduating from university. Owens says growing numbers will influence their decision to stay involved.
“We were worried this year that because we, and most of our friends, are leaving school that participation would decrease,” he says. “But we actually grew this year. It would be nice to get successors to keep it alive, but in the mean time, we want to keep it rolling.”
Owens says the fact that it’s only a twice-a-year event would make continued involvement in some capacity easier.
“We’re looking to find two new people to learn the ropes and try to get a cut of every pub crawl they do, and get their friends involved.”
It appears the sky is the limit for this entrepreneurial duo. As some students graduate, others take their place, keeping the business and the pub crawls alive.