St Patrick's Day is just around the corner. And that means b

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In a little over two weeks, one of the year's biggest partying days hits town ­ St Patrick's Day. Not that long ago, 17 March used to be celebrated...

In a little over two weeks, one of the year's biggest partying days hits town ­ St Patrick's Day. Not that long ago, 17 March used to be celebrated virtually exclusively by the Irish community. These days, its appeal has widened, so much so that thousands of pubs will be hanging out the tricolour flags and making sure there's plenty of Guinness and Jameson to last the siege. The importance of St Patrick's Day to Diageo can be measured by the fact that it predicts four million pints of Guinness will be drunk during the day. That's more than three times the daily average of 1.2 million pints. Guinness is spending more than £2m to make sure the day goes with a swing, and is sending out kits containing promotional and point-of-sale material to more than 22,000 pubs and outlets. Customers will get a token for every pint purchased, and five tokens will qualify for a choice of a St Patrick's Day hat or Irish drum (a bodhran). Also planned is a direct marketing campaign targeting 400,000 existing Guinness drinkers. Ireland's leading whiskey brand, Jameson, is also entering the party spirit. It has produced eye-catching promotional and point-of-sale material, including drip mats, balloons, bunting and bottle highlighters, which bear the message "Happy St Patrick's Day". Jameson urges licensees to install 1.5-litre bottles on Optic as this can dramatically increase sales. In two trials, one in a pub in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, and another in a working men's bar in Edinburgh, sales soared by 90% and 70% respectively when 1.5-litre bottles replaced the standard 70cl size. Drinks distributor Beer Seller is doing its part to help licensees prepare for the big day. Brand manager Liz Guilmant says around 400 special promotional kits have been sent to pubs containing bespoke point-of-sale material, leprechauns, and Irish tricolour flags. However, she says that customers should be given something in addition to the promotional material ­ such as a special food offering or music. "The promotional material should be used as the basis for an event," Guilmant says. "Pubs will only get an increase in trade if they take the time and effort to put on something special and different from what neighbouring pubs are offering." Beer Seller has been promoting St Pat's Day since January but Guilmant says: "We always get a phone call the day before with people asking: Can we have some Guinness'?" For outlets to compete with the established Irish communitypubs or the branded chains like O'Niell's, Waxy O'Connor's and Scruffy Murphy's, they need to offer something special. Take Waxy O'Connor's. The Glendola Leisure-branded chain has been preparing for this year's event since last September. Glendola's managing director Alex Salussolia comments: "It's the biggest day of the year for us. We expect to triple our business compared to a normal day. "We will have people queuing up to get in from around midday. We will be at full capacity until late afternoon and then by seven to eight o'clock at night, we will again have people queuing up to get in." Salussolia adds: "St Patrick's Day is very important to us because it means we can give a little back to our customers. We are at the centre of the Irish community and we want to create the best atmosphere we can." Glendola's MD says some of the planned activities includegiving away quality rugby shirts, together with special offers throughout the day. There is also an all-inclusive five-night holiday for two in Boston, USA, for the person who visits all four Waxy O'Connor's ­ (London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham) ­ in the quickest time. That St Pat's Day falls on a Monday this year doesn't faze Salussolia. "Anyone who knows the Irish will know that they will celebrate whatever day it falls on." Six Continents' 90-plus O'Neill's pubs are launching a campaign to make St Patrick's Day a bank holiday and wants customers to sign a petition. O'Neill's marketing manager Simon Cope explains: "St Patrick's Day falls on a Monday this year and many customers are complaining that they'll be in work all day when they should be out partying. We're encouraging people to make their voice heard and sign our petition so when it comes to 2004, everyone can give 17 March the special celebration it deserves." Customers can add their signatures at any O'Neill's until 9 March and 6C then intends to present the petition to Westminster in the week before the big day. Essential facts

St Patrick wasn't born in Ireland ­ his most likely birthplace was Wales, although Scotland and France are other possibilities. He was born around 390AD.

When he was about 16 he was abducted and enslaved by Irish marauders, led by Niall of the Nine Hostages, and worked as a shepherd in County Antrim. After six years, he fled to Britain and soon after, settled in France, where he spent 20 years as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey.

In 432, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Celestine, who made Patrick a bishop and sanctioned his return to Ireland to convert the island to Christianity. In the winter of 432, he and 24 followers met with Ireland's most powerful warlord, the King of Laoghaire. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground and said its three leaves were like the Holy Trinity: God the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost. The king was converted to Christianity and allowed Patrick to preach throughout Ireland. St Patrick is also credited with driving snakes out of Ireland ­ however, at that time, snakes were a symbol of paganism and it was the pagans who were driven out.

He is thought to have died between 463 and 493AD. The most likely place of his burial is Down Cathedral. Hints from Beer Seller

Plan the event well in advance

Advertise the forthcoming St Patrick's Day theme using posters and a small display

Concentrate the majority of your decorations on the bar/servery area only to create a "hot spot" for customers to focus on

Tie balloons into bunches and hang at either side of the "hot spot"

If possible, bunting should be angled down from the ceiling to a central point on the bar

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