Trivia nights are becoming must-have entertainment at bars across the country, where a good host can make $50 to $250 a night depending on if they work for a company or themselves. The friendly competition is also a regular feature at many restaurants, craft brweries, private parties and churches.
Google “trivia nights Atlanta” and more than 70 listings pop up. Search in a much smaller town such as Marietta, Ohio, population 14,000, and around 15 trivia nights display.
For the outlets that aren’t hosting a trivia night, it’s not hard to convince them to try it, according to Thor Dollar, who owns Hammered Trivia in Raleigh, N.C. He started the year working four locations with one other host and now has 12 hosts working 22 trivia nights at different places.
“Some of the places where we host trivia, it’s their busiest night of the week. Busier than Friday or Saturday. People are there three hours on average and some stay after (trivia) and keep spending money,” he said.
Dollar said his average game has 20 teams, with an average of four or five people on each team. That adds up to 100 people dropping $20 to $40 in a night.
Based on that math, bars and restaurants make $2,000 to $4,000 from trivia-playing customers — and know it’s well worth paying the trivia host $200.
Is It Hard To Be a Bar Trivia Host?
First off, you don’t have to be Alex Trebec. You don’t even have to come up with good questions, much less know the answers.
“You do not have to be a whiz kid to have a good time,” Dollar said. “A good host is really quick thinking, energetic and fun. You’re the host of the party, so you should be having fun.”
Compile Trivia Questions
The Internet is full of hundreds of lists of thousands of trivia questions. Or you can subscribe to a service that supplies questions for a flat fee.
For example, StageTimeTrivia.com charges $100 a month, for weekly rounds of trivia questions, answer sheets and score cards. DeliverMeTrivia.com charges $19 a week for the same.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match. Dollar says he subscribes to a service but also puts in a few of his own questions, sometimes tied to local people and events.
Project Your Voice
“You have to be able to read. You have to be loud and clear and able to project your voice. It’s really public speaking at the end of the day,” said Casey Wyatt, another host with Hammered Trivia.
She’s always loved going to trivia nights, so she just started hosting as a side gig to her day job with an educational data analysis company.
Add a Little Humor
Again, you don’t need to be a stand-up comedian, but throwing in a little humor or friendly ribbing at a team here and there makes the crowd feel engaged with the host and each other.
On a recent trivia night, Wyatt asked: “What is the orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera?” The correct answer is: “Overture.” But when she was reading out answers she said:
“Prelude….,” and some patrons cheered and others cringed, “is the most popular wrong answer. The right answer is overture.”
Not Too Hard and Not Too Easy
To keep the crowd having fun and coming back, most people should be able to answer six or seven questions from each round of 10, Dollar said.
Most pub quiz questions are general knowledge a lot of people know, while a few are for someone who happens to have knowledge in a unique area or remember something they learned in high school anatomy.
“Every good host should be constantly reading the room and getting feedback from players,” Dollar said. If they seem frustrated or they aren’t having fun, adjust your questions.
A Little Technical Know-How
Trivia hosts usually play music in the background from their laptop or phone between rounds and when players are thinking of answers. Some also play snippets of songs for music trivia rounds.
While some bar trivia hosts use pen and paper, many have guests scan a QR code to see the questions and submit answers from their phone.
This allows your pub quiz to include photos, book covers, illustrations or anything that can be scanned and seen on a phone.
How to Start a Side Gig Hosting Trivia
There are two ways to host trivia night: Find your own gig with a restaurant or bar or sign up with a local or national trivia company.
Landing Your Own Trivia Night
Find an establishment that doesn’t have a trivia night and ask if they have ever considered it. If they say they tried and trivia didn’t draw a crowd, explain why you can do it better.
Use the math from above to show how long teams of players stay and how much they spend.
Dollar suggests offering to host three nights for free or a reduced rate, then when a certain number of teams play consistently raise your rate.
Tell the owner or manager that as the trivia host, you’ll provide all the materials including questions, answer sheets, pens, pencils etc. But suggest the business might offer gift cards worth $25 to $75 for three levels of prizes to the winning team or teams.
Get in with Trivia Companies
National bar trivia chains hiring hosts nationwide include Geeks Who Drink, Team Trivia, Top Shelf Trivia and many more. According to Indeed.com they pay $20 to $35 an hour for a trivia night that lasts two to three hours.
Wyatt, who recently signed on with Hammered Trivia, decided to go with a local company after playing several trivia nights around town and applying to the one where she thought the crowd had the most fun.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but they also paid the best,” she said.
How To Keep Trivia Players From Cheating
It’s a given that people cheat at trivia. And when players are submitting answers on their phones, there is even more opportunity to Google an answer or two.
“People cheat all the time,” Dollar said. “Your biggest way to keep the game honest is knowing the players. I go around and talk to the players.”
He also intentionally asks at least three extremely hard questions that raise a red flag if a team gets them all correct.
“Then I strike up a conversation with them. If a bunch of 22-year-old dudes get all the questions about musicals right I say: ‘So which one of you is the Andrew Lloyd Weber fan’ or ‘what was your favorite show that played at the Durham Performing Arts Center last year.”
Another tactic: Catch cheaters in the act of searching for answers on their phone.
“When I know they’re cheating,” Dollar said, “I tell them I’m not going to check their scores anymore but they can still play along for the rest of the night.”
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer and editor in Chapel Hill, N.C. and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker, Missteps & Lessons Learned.