Less is more: How Does a Dive Bar Get Customer Experience Right?

A close friend of mine who moved away and I hadn’t seen in almost a year was in town this week and we met for a few drinks to catch up. She’s been living outside the United States the last eleven months so she told me to pick the place. Immediately, two dive bars in the area came to mind. We met, had a few drinks and shared some laughs before I wished her a safe trip home. 

I took a taxi back to my apartment and the following thought entered my mind: why, out of all the places in New York City, would I tell a friend to meet me at a dive bar? These bars are known to be a little run down with cheaper alcohol and people of all ages at all hours of the night. They’re darker, the walls sometimes are coming apart, and the old jukebox potentially only offers songs from the 90’s and before. If the bar has a back yard, you may find patrons out there using it as a smoking area. In fact, one of the bars I suggested had benches made completely out of duct tape and offers free hot dogs with every beer order. 

It’s not exactly the nicest place I could have brought my friend. Was I a bad friend for choosing one of these places to bring my friend who only had one free night out during her quick trip to NYC? There are plenty of nice, comfortable bars all around NYC, perfectly air conditioned in the summer and filled with, what some would consider, better alcohol and food. At first glance, a dive bar is not the most attractive experience and certainly not a place you would bring a visitor to… 

…or is it? 

What is it about a dive bar that keeps its customers coming back? Why is this type of place the first thought that crosses my mind to bring my friend who is back in the U.S. for the first time in almost a year? I think this situation speaks volumes about customers creating their own experience. In every scenario, companies look for what the customer actually wants and while one would think the customer always wants “cleaner, nicer and fancier,” perhaps there’s more to it when it comes to the bar scene. 

Dive bars have tapped into a person’s desire for warmth and their sense of community. A lot of people want the “Cheers” experience……you know…….”where everybody knows your name.” A customer will be willing to forfeit some of the finer things found at a restaurant or “higher class” bar in order to feel that they are a part of something. In fact, being a “dive” is what keeps the patrons coming back day after day. Being a “dive,” but also extremely warm and friendly, is what keeps these places at the top of my mind when thinking about good venue to bring people. 

Why would I take my friend to just any random bar on the street? I want her to not only enjoy her food and drink but also enjoy her experience. There are nice bars where she lives too, but these dive bars are unique. They are unique in how they are set up, in how they operate, in how they look and feel, and in who the people are that are always there. Before I go out, I the customer have already decided what experience I want. Even if another bar throws a discount my way, there’s a pretty good chance I’m not interested. I want the dive experience. I want to be with those who frequent the establishment and I want to be recognized by the bartender……it’s competition that the other bars, at that moment, cannot meet. 

It’s a lesson in CX that it is not always about having more or having what is considered to be the best. A good customer experience adapts to the customer, it doesn’t ask the customer to adapt. Sometimes the customer is only looking for unique and all they want is to be around those who are also looking for unique. Dive bars are legitimately all about the experience. What that experience actually is, is up to debate but the fact that they are sticking to their identity is exactly why the dive bar gets the customer experience right.