A drink minimum is a type of cover charge for a bar or nightclub (although some popular places have both a cover charge and a drink minimum). Usually the "drink" must be an overpriced alcoholic beverage, as opposed to a soft drink. Typically the club makes it clear that you must either buy N drinks (a two-drink minimum is common), or that you must spend N dollars on food or drinks to stay. While it can be difficult to enforce such a rule, a good bartender/waitress can keep track of such things and let the security staff know of anyone not following the rules.
I had someone ask me about drink minimums the other day, and they wondered what would happen if you tried to leave without having your minimum. "Would they stop you and make you buy another drink before you left?" I had to explain that, quite the opposite, they would probably encourage you to leave to make room for a paying customer.
In a word: money. Specifically, there are many reasons why a club might have a drink minimum:
- It is a way to help keep the population of underage patrons down on certain nights of the week.
- Some bars have drink minimums on nights when they have special entertainment, such as a live band or a comedy act, to help pay for the gig.
- It helps cut down on loitering. The bar doesn't just become a hang out where people come to meet their friends, but not spend their money. This is very important for clubs with entertainment.