From Sept. 12 to 16, many McGill students found themselves at Gerts drinking from pitchers of beer and conversing spiritedly over loud music. Though this may sound like any normal week in the familiar student bar, this time the drinks were even cheaper and the music louder. This was B-Week: An event that aimed to reintroduce Gerts to the student body.
After several poor fiscal years for Gerts, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) planned B-Week as an effort to revamp the student bar’s image.
“[Gerts] was producing quite healthy profits up until two to three years ago, and this was due to [a] migration of student-run activities […] like Hype Week or Carnival,” SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Niall Carolan elaborated about the challenges that Gerts has faced in the past couple of years. “[These events] used to be majoritively based out of Gerts [and] have now moved away to other private locations off campus.”
In addition to a decrease in student-led events occurring at Gerts, it doesn’t help that the current construction on McTavish Street has caused a drop in foot traffic at the bar. For both reasons, Carolan believed that new efforts are now needed to bring students back to Gerts.
“In previous years, we just relied on students to turn up […] as opposed to actively seeking out students and student groups,” Carolan said.
The bar is one of SSMU’s main revenue-generating operations, and is run entirely by students. It provides many job opportunities, the quantity and availability of which rely heavily on Gerts’ fiscal success. As such, the recent dip in profits and downward trend in attendance has led to a reduction in salaries in order to cut labour costs over the past year.
To overcome these challenges, B-Week was created as a week-long incentive to actively draw both new and returning students in and reinvigorate Gerts as a campus bar. It was no coincidence that B-Week was timed according to the beginning of the school year.
“We need to be actively promoting ourselves to important and […] influential student groups on campus,” Carolan said. “And, we wanted to try and build off the momentum of Frosh and OAP.”
To increase patronage, Gerts offered extremely low prices on drinks throughout the week, including $7 pitchers of beer and $2 shooters.
“We just really reduced our margins with the hope of increasing volume,” Carolan said. “We quadrupled our sales, so we did better than an average week, which is good to begin with, but even then that wasn’t necessarily the goal. My goal was just to get people through the doors and show them what Gerts has to offer.”
For Carolan, B-Week was a way of giving students a refreshing new outlook on the bar and showing them a space where they can hang out and socialize in the evenings.
“The benefit from those revenues doesn’t stop at that one week,” Carolan explained. “I know that if people had a good time they will likely want to come check it out later on.”
Tim Mapley, U3 Arts student and bar manager at Gerts, echoed Carolan’s sentiment.
“What we really wanted to do this year was show that a) Gerts exists, and b) it’s a fun place for […] the student population to come hang out,’ Mapley said. “[We were] really just [trying] to revamp our image.”
B-Week allowed new students at McGill to discover the bar and its cheap drink deals, and returning students had the opportunity to catch up with friends in a familiar setting.
“Just about everyone I’ve heard from enjoyed the event,” Carolan commented. “From the […] bartenders, to Alessandro [Sangiovanni], the Food and Beverage director [at SSMU], and most importantly the students as well [….] I considered the inaugural B-Week a resounding success.”
Ryan Ehrenworth, U3 Law, confirmed the positive student response after spending three nights of B-Week at Gerts.
“I thought it was a very good move by Gerts in general because it attracted customers during the week, and made a lot of [‘broke’] students really happy,” Ehrenworth said.
Furthermore, the increase in attendance at B-Week compared to other Gerts events was very clear. The bar was consistently packed with students throughout the week, and the line at the door often reached outside of the SSMU Building.
“We had people that were there every day of the week, and our Coyote Ugly event was very popular as well,” Mapley said. “The challenge for us in operations was just having enough pitchers for everybody because we consistently sold a lot of beer.”
B-Week probably won’t be the only time this year that Gerts managers battle increasing demand for drinks. Gerts’ popular Oktoberhaus and St. Patrick’s Day events are set to provide more opportunities to boost revenue by selling drinks. Furthermore, according to Carolan, the iconic student bar will be piloting new events this year.
“We are reaching out to more faculty executives to get more events in Gerts,” Carolan said. “More campus events, more student events like Hype Week and Carnival, and not necessarily just drinking events either. It’s really just about engaging the student population.”
After the clear success of B-Week, Gerts has started the school year on a strong note. With promises to actively host many other events throughout the year, the future of Gerts’ reputation is looking up.