Trivia quiz nights are a great way to bring patrons into your bar or restaurant on your quiet nights and turn them into regular customers. In this guide we’ve aimed to capture the knowledge of a very successful quiz host, John Bardsley, on how to run a trivia night everyone will enjoy.
Ten tips for beginner hosts
Learn how to operate the PA system. It must be in the most suitable part of the room and the settings must be correct. Volume must be adequate and the bass not too strong. You should hold the microphone very close to your mouth and slow down your speaking pace. Having good audio will make your job much easier and prevent interjections and discontent. If it’s a house PA, ask the staff how to adjust the settings. Do a practice run with a friend or two, or a few members of your staff, sitting in different parts of the room.
Do a full rehearsal of the evening not only to check the sound system but also as a check for your questions and answers and also to practise scoring and to get the timing of the evening right.
Thoroughly check your questions. You will not be able to avoid making the odd mistake but thoroughly research the questions and answers. Then if there are any challenges to your answers you’ll be able to say that you’ve done the research and you know you’re right. Be careful to avoid ambiguous questions, such as ‘Which is the bigger city: Houston or Chicago?’ Specify in the question that you’re asking for geographical area or population size. Checking the questions can be done quickly just by cutting and pasting the questions into Google. You’ll be able to quickly see whether the answer is correct or needs further research. Allow an hour or two for each quiz night to check the questions.
Be careful to check your pronunciation of any unfamiliar words by using on-line dictionaries. Just google, for example, ‘how to pronounce Arafura’. If you are still unsure on the night how to pronounce a word, you can say “not sure how to pronounce this” - and someone will help you out. This is a much better outcome than having the whole audience laugh at your pronunciation!
Question challenges. Players often challenge your answers as a face-saving exercise. They might have forcibly overruled their team mates’ answers with their own, and when it turn out that their answer is wrong, they can become quite aggressive.
To avoid this sort of abuse, spell out the ground rules about question challenges at the start of the evening. If the players are very clear on your position your night will run much more smoothly. You can say to them that you’re confident that the answers are right, and that you won’t accept any challenges on the night. If it turns out that you’re in error, the next week you can apologize and correct the error. Also say that if anyone has a problem or is unclear with any of the questions, he/she is not to yell out but to wait until the end of the round and raise their hand. You will not tolerate any heckling or abuse: you have the microphone and will give it right back to them so everyone will hear it!
Have neighboring teams mark the questions. Get tables to swap their answer sheets for marking, then return them to their owners for final checking and for handing in to you for tallying the scores. Let the markers know that they should not deduct points for misspelling and that players have a right to appeal.
Just before the marking of the answers, you can ask people to put up their hands if they’ve not understood any of the questions or have found the question ambiguous. When you clarify the question, do it only for that table. They have taken the initiative to query the question, so only they should receive the benefit of your clarification.
Always honor your commitments. If you've said that the night will start at 7 pm ensure that you’re handing out answer sheets at 6:45 and reminding them that you will start at 7. If you’ve told the players that you’ll be handing out bonus points next week, it must happen or you will annoy the players.
Remember your job is essentially to bring patrons into the hotel. You want everyone to enjoy themselves so they’ll keep coming back. This should be your primary focus so ensure you look after all the players - the good teams and the poorly-performing teams. See ‘Seven tips to make the evening enjoyable for all.’
Steer away from humor unless of course it’s the self-deprecating kind. Jokes can fall flat and embarrass you or even worse someone can take offence.
Seven tips to make the evening enjoyable for all
To prevent the best team from winning each week, you can use a bonus and handicap system. Every six weeks you can hand out a bonus of five points to every team. On the night you’ve handed it out, you can declare the evening a bonus-free competition. Over the next five quiz nights each team is able to use the bonus to help them to win. The bonus must be handed in to the host before the last round starts. This will usually prevent any one team winning more than once. If however you do have a team winning two weeks in a row, you can handicap them by five points for the next week.
Use a simple game of luck such as Heads and Tails to give even the low-scoring players a chance of winning something on the night. You simply toss the coin and those who have predicted incorrectly (e.g. their hands are on their heads when you have tossed tails) sit down. The winner is the last one standing.
Have the club or pub organize a lucky door prize. The results of this can be announced and the prizes collected (again food vouchers are best) during the break halfway through the evening.
You can also give the worst-performing teams a chance to win something by having ‘spot questions’. This is a game won by guessing a difficult question. The host asks quite an obscure question such as ‘what year was the washing machine invented?’ The players guess the answer, write it on a piece of paper and show the host who provides feedback - ‘higher!’ or ‘lower!’ This can be done several times during the evening to break up the rounds.
Each week present an encouragement award to a team. This should not be the losing team – otherwise players may play to lose – but perhaps the third- or fourth- last team. The award can be a $5 Sunday breakfast voucher. This will encourage team members back on the weekend, and they will usually bring their friends with them.
Have a few very easy questions during each round (multiple choice works well). You’ll get plenty of groans from the better players but it’s important that all players get some questions right - or they may well decide not to come back.
Include a ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What am I?’ question. You can provide three clues after the first round of 25 questions has been marked, just before the answer sheets are given back to you. If they write the correct answer on the sheet after these three clues, you tell them they’re right when they hand in the sheet and they receive three points. Then for any teams who are still in the dark, provide three more clues after the second round and award one point for correct answers.
Where to hold your trivia quiz
Bistros or lounges are popular choices as they’re usually more comfortable and quieter than the noisier public bars.
A public bar is not a good place to hold a quiz night, particularly a bar with pool tables. Pool players often disrupt the quiz by calling out the answers.
Vouchers for drinks or meals are a great idea and encourage people to come back, and bring their friends. The following work well: first prize - $40 restaurant voucher at your venue; second prize: $25 restaurant voucher at your venue; third prize: $15 voucher to spend anywhere in the club or pub.
Large monetary prizes or jackpots can be counter-productive. People who play for money tend to be ultra-competitive, so making the evening less enjoyable for other players. They are also less likely to spend money on food and drinks.
When should the night start and end?
We suggest around 2 hours is the perfect length of time for a quiz night. Usually a quiz night is run on a quiet night during the week. This means that you should allow enough time beforehand for people to finish work and travel to the venue, and buy their meal. And because it’s a week night, your players will not want the quiz to go much past 9 pm. We recommend therefore that you start the evening at 7 and try to finish as close to 9 as possible.
How many questions?
You won’t need more than 50 questions for your quiz night. You can ask them as five rounds of 10 or two rounds of 25 or some other combination. We recommend two rounds of 25.
You should be able to ask the first round of 25 questions in just over 30 minutes. This will also give you enough time for a spot question to break up the round (see ‘Seven tips to make the evening enjoyable for all’). You can then allocate 30 minutes for scoring, for your clues to the who- or what-am-I question, for collating and announcing the scores for the first round, and for announcing the raffle winners.
Once you have asked and scored the second round, and played the Heads and Tails game, announced the winners and awarded prizes, it will be close to 9 pm.
What makes a good question?
Ensure you pick questions that are interesting and suit your crowd.
Always make sure you have a tie breaker question for the end of the night.
Writing good questions is a skill and it takes a lot of time. Sure you can download some free questions from the internet but good questions will ensure a successful night.
You’ll want to choose a question supplier with enough question packages for several years, who’ll ensure you don’t receive the same package of questions twice, and who’ll automatically email your questions each week.
Sign up to our site here to take advantage of these features and email us to ask for a trial package. We’ll then credit your account so you can download your first package free of charge.
While background music can make the evening more enjoyable for some people, it can also be very annoying for others. Music tastes vary tremendously, and also many people who attend your night may well have trouble hearing your questions. It’s better on balance to dispense with the music. If you run the evening well, your players will have plenty of fun and won’t miss the music.
Banning cell usage during rounds can be counter-productive. Your players may have a very good reason for being on their cell phones. They may be doctors on call or they may need to send or receive an urgent message to or from home. Or they may be posting on Facebook about how much they’re enjoying your night!
You’ll know if any participants are using their cells to cheat. Neighboring teams will not be slow in alerting you. You can then monitor the suspects and look for anomalies in their performance. If they have a low score for their first round and then on their second round they have all questions correct, you can call them out, and disallow their entry.
If you do see people using their cell phones repeatedly, you might want to make a general announcement to the effect that it’s probably better to minimize the use of your cell as people will suspect that you’re using it to cheat.
Advertising your night
Most importantly, make sure you give people plenty of notice of your event!
Start advertising at least one month out from the event.
Place posters around your venue. Place an A-frame poster on the pavement. Place advertisements in the local paper.
Get anyone using the PA system in the club or hotel to advertise the trivia night.
Send out a flyer to your internal database. Using an automatic newsletter program such as Mail Chimp is a great and easy way to send out regular newsletters to your customers.
Encourage participants to post on Facebook that they’re attending a trivia night and on the night get them to check in at the venue, and let their friends know they’re enjoying the event.
Ask guests to register with their name and email address and permission to add their details to your internal database, this way you can email them about the next upcoming trivia night.
Take photos! Get approval from the participants and post photos on your business Facebook page.
Selling more meals and drinks
Have a specials board just inside the entrance of your pub or club to encourage your participants to eat before or during the trivia night. You can have one or two of your menu items on special each week – but rotate through your menu so your players don’t become tired of your food.
Do a special on coffee and cake and have your host advertise the special during the night.
At the end of the evening announce a weekend meal special or hand out a weekend menu.
We hope you've found this helpful. Feel free to email us with any questions.