How to host a Day of the Dead event

By Jessica Mason

- Last updated on GMT

Day of the Dead: Can you host the event in your pub?
Day of the Dead: Can you host the event in your pub?
Pubs hosting Day of the Dead celebrations can boost footfall, gain attention and remind people that life is for living. Jessica Mason explains how to get your venue ready.

The Mexican celebration Day of the Dead, also known as El Dia de Muertos, begins on the 31 October and ends on 2 November. The festivities, unlike Halloween, do not focus on the eeriness of death, but instead celebrate life.

Intrinsic to Mexican culture, this is no maudlin event. It is the chance for the living to remember family and friends who have died and invite them to come back and celebrate with them.

“The popularity of Dia de Muertos has grown massively in the past few years so essentially, for venues, it is a chance to extend the thriving Halloween period. Done right it can look stunning and get people talking about a venue," says Pistonhead global brand manager Claire Madams.

“Halloween in England has always been about being scary, nasty or gory and, in the US it’s more about dressing up and so now it has become more about people wanting to dress up as anything and it’s more for kids,” says Anmarie Spaziano, owner of Annie’s Burger Shack and Freehouse, who decorates her venue and hosts a huge event at her pub, lifting people from the horrors of Halloween to a more optimistic and attractive Day of the Dead theme. 

Mark Selby, co-founder of Wahaca, which has more than 15 sites across London, agrees that positivity can be a real money-spinner and points out that “people are always looking for new and exciting things to do as a substitute for Halloween which has become a bit of a commercial repeat year in, year out. Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and is there to be enjoyed. Amazing colours, food and atmosphere is what makes it such an amazing festival in Mexico and something we are aiming to replicate here.”

Selby reminds publicans that pubs are well-placed as social eating and drinking dens as well as community hubs to really make the most of this festival. “Remember the family and the reason behind Day of the Dead is linked to memories and friendships. The mood needs to reflect that.”

Cheerful & celebratory

Spaziano, explains the event you host will ultimately be cheerful because you’re hosting partying  ghosts who want to have a great time as well as lots of paying customers.

"It's a time when you have ghosts of ancestors visiting you for this one day, so auntie Mabel or gran might come to visit. There are a lot of candles dotted around and lots of food,” laughs Spaziano, who says it’s about throwing one big social gathering.

Edgy & fashionable

“With the bright colours, the sugar skulls, the flowers and even the masks of the Luchadors, it’s an altogether more colourful and celebratory event than Halloween,” agrees Samantha Johnson, marketing manager for Pierhead Purchasing, which is the brand owner of Day of the Dead beers.

“Why go out in greys and browns with only a hint of blood when you can go out in bright reds, yellows and orange or vibrant blues and purple?” And Johnson is right, it’s a fashionable shindig.

“Day of the dead celebrations have grown in popularity alongside an interest in Mexican tattoo culture, tequila and a move away from traditional Halloween celebrations. It allows pubs and bars an opportunity to stay on-trend and throw an alternative party with cool and quirky decorations, while promoting authentic tequila culture at the same time,” says Casa Herradura brand
ambassador Nicci Stringfellow, adding: “You only need to stroll down the streets of Hackney and Dalston to see how much tattoo culture has flourished in recent years and sugar skull tattoo, one of the main images of Day of the Dead, is particularly popular. The styling of Day of the Dead goes hand in hand with edgy popular culture."

“The style of Day of the Dead has been popular for many years in certain social cultures that are considered less mainstream and more underground,” says Madams.

“The Calavera has been a popular tattoo for the ‘rebels of society’ for a long time, which instantly gives it an element of ‘cool’, that combined with how beautiful and striking the event is, has inspired the creative worlds of fashion, music and art each of which have both mainstream and underground following,” she adds, pointing out that “designers like McQueen and artists like Philippe Pasqua feature skulls in their work, which makes the skull element less scary to your average person and more a thing of beauty.

This, combined with the stunning colours of the material and marigolds, makes the event and style around it impossible to ignore, creating a presence and interest with a more mainstream crowd. Mexican street food has got super-popular recently too, which will instantly perk an interest in the cultural side.”

Mexicana

Day of the Dead’s profile has gone up in line with the rise of Mexican culture in the UK too, “Across Britain, Mexican restaurants have been springing up, with Chimichanga expanding fast — some 18.3m meals were served in the growing Mexican restaurant sector in 2012, from 278 outlets, up from 11.5m meals from 175 outlets in 2007,” according to foodservice research firm Horizons.

“There has long been a fascination with Mexico, but in the past few and brought a lot of its culture to the fore as well. Ten years ago it was Thai food, now Mexican has taken over, with lots of varied flavours, a very different spice palette wine matching and even certain moved on a lot during the past more people travelling and access to different themes and celebrations. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t know what a fajita was.”

Madams says that the main message should be about making the most of it.

“You have three days to use this theme, stock products that suit it, have a special menu or entertainment. Who doesn't love Mexican food and mariachi bands? Even punk rock band The Bronx have a mariachi alter ego called Mariachi El Bronx - it's fun!'

Stunning decor

“DOTD is all about stunning décor for me,” says Madams, who warns “don’t scrimp on décor! If you’re not a creative type, hire someone that’s a pro.” It needs to look captivating.

“One of the benefits of amazing décor is the photo opportunities and social media posts. You could create an altar specifically to have photos at with your social media details to tag your venue. A really awesome and eye-catching flyer for the online and street promotions must compliment the decor efforts. Very Instagram and Twitter worthy.”

Johnson advises that many things you would need to decorate the bar with and any authentic details are now widely available, including altars, flower garlands and painted skulls.

“Find a good face painter to do sugar skulls on staff and customers and make it distinct from Halloween, so leave the cobwebs and vampires behind.”

At Annie’s Burger Shack, there are two levels, and the area on the ground floor will be decorated “with sugar skulls and orange and yellow marigolds. We’re even doing a dead pets shrine,” says Spaziano, adding this is something that will be “really cute, because people can put pics of their pets that have died and they miss. The idea is their spirits will be with you during the celebrations.”

Bands, paint and tattoos

Pistonhead.facepainting

“We love dressing up in the UK butthere is something about having the excuse to get your face painted as part of it that really brings out the joy of our inner child,” admits Johnson.
Spaziano hints that she’s “trying to find a mariachi band” to bring more fun to the event and really create a lively focal point in the pub.

Across Wahaca restaurants, they are having “one and a half kilometres of traditional papel picado (perforated paper) created to decorate the places” and have also got “28,000
temporary tattoos on the way to help get people in the mood throughout our Day of the Dead festival, and on Saturday, 1 November, there will be face painters in our restaurants giving customers the real Mexican look,” says Selby, who reveals the chain will also have a “competition running in conjunction with Intrepid Travel, for customers to win a trip to Day of the Dead 2015 in Mexico City.

To enter, visit Wahaca's website​ (from 13 October) and tell us whose life they’ll be celebrating this day of the dead.”

All of this maximises interest across the busy period. Selby points out: “It’s a day of cross-arts events, culminating in an immersive Day of The Dead party with cutting edge Mexican themed live acts, DJs and performers,” but most importantly, “it should be big fun.”

Drinks to serve

DOTD.2014

Pistonhead Lager features a matt black can with eyecatching Calavera (skull), which is perfect for Day of the Dead events. Wholesalers now sell cans or bottles. It also
has draught available with a free limited-edition skull font (info@proofdrinks.com or 0207 737 7995).

Another great shout is the Cerveceria Mexicana Dia de los Muertos range (Day of the Dead beer from the Mexicali brewery). Just in time for this year’s festivities, the range is increasing from six to seven with The Necromancer Chocolate Stout joining an already well-established range. The range was itroduced late last year and has won awards at the International Beer Challenge
for the Immortal Beloved Hefeweizen and Queen of the Night Pale Ale.

As the brand owner, Pierhead sells it direct and can be contacted on 01322 662 377, but also sells through wholesalers: Beers of Europe, Dunns Food and Drink, HT&Co, Imperial, Jonny’s (specialist Mexican wholesaler), La Diva, Latin Spirits, Nectar, Malcolm Cowan, Small Beer Ltd and Utobeer, so if you have an account with one of them, contact your BDM.

Other drinks to stock?

Mezcals and Tequila brands are applicable,particularly premium 100% agave Tequilas.

“All of the Casa Herradura brands are suited to Day of the Dead in that they are all 100%& agave and 100% traditional,just like the celebrations themselves. However, el Jimador Blanco 100%& agave Tequila matches perfectly in style and taste,”says Stringfellow.

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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