One of the best tools in the restaurant owner’s toolbox is happy hour. When done right, happy hour has patrons eagerly awaiting its return. It’s also the most profitable time for some restaurants.
But getting happy hour right isn’t as simple as dropping prices on a few alcoholic drinks. If you want to make the most of it, you’ll have to go above and beyond for your patrons. As restaurant owners, we know what it’s like to struggle over happy hour menus and getting the promotional aspect right. So, we’ll give you our best happy hour ideas to make every happy hour a runaway success that has your customers asking for seconds.
The happy hour most of us know applies largely to bars. It’s a period of the day when an establishment offers special pricing on alcoholic drinks. The idea is to bring in patrons during times of the day that would otherwise be relatively dead.
However, an increasing number of restaurants and cafes have started to co-opt the term. That’s good because it gets more people used to the idea of happy hour. But it also has the drawback of creating more competition to make the best happy hour around.
The first step toward winning the happy hour contest is to change your mentality around it. You may think it’s just a way to fill seats during downtime, but research shows happy hours far outperforming regular service hours in some areas. Moreover, happy hour is better at attracting new customers. It’s an excellent opportunity to make an impression and turn some of them into regulars.
Here are some ideas for how to do that.
Before we get into how to get patrons in the door, let’s go over what you want to do in terms of your menu. Slashing prices on alcoholic beverages is one thing, and there’s not much science to it. But if you want to take it a step further, you’ll need to put a little more thought into your happy hour food menu.
It’s true that a lot of patrons are attracted by the prospect of discounted booze. But that’s just part of the story. The way to keep them coming back for more is with awesome food options on your happy hour menu.
A happy hour menu is not the place to dump all your hard-to-move dishes. Sure, you’re offering discounts but discounting unpopular items is not going to magically make them more popular.
Instead, look at what your bestselling items are during that time of day and lead with those. Remember, happy hour is about making everyone happy. Nothing makes people happier than getting what they already love at a discounted price.
As great as half-price nachos can be, they’re not exactly something people get excited about. To make your happy hour about more than just cheap food, include a premium option here and there. Seeing an otherwise expensive dish at bargain prices makes your customers feel like they’re getting bang for their buck and makes the happy hour worth coming back to.
You may think your restaurant just isn’t the type of place to have a happy hour. Believe us, every restaurant is a happy hour restaurant with the right approach.
If it just doesn’t make sense to offer happy hour pricing on your main courses, make them fit the price. Miniature versions of your popular main courses are outstanding for marketing. Firstly, they offer people a chance to try something that would normally be outside of their budget. And second, you’re introducing people to the most exclusive parts of your menu with a small commitment.
When you think of happy hour, you’re probably only thinking about filling seats. But that blinds you to a whole different set of possibilities. A good-to-go happy hour menu can make all the difference in the world, and you’ll probably be the only business in the area offering it.
An excellent menu with a lot of variety is a great start. Now you need to make sure the ambiance jives with it. To do the “happy hour” name justice, you’ll need to put your best foot forward in a lot of ways.
Ideally, happy hour will bring in a lot of customers. Maybe even more than you’re normally equipped to handle. Make sure you have the staff to deal with a rush and make sure no customer is left waiting. Nothing turns happy hour into sad hour faster than poor service.
Your front-of-house also needs to be on top of their game. Make sure everyone knows the happy hour menu back to front. And, don’t forget happy hour is the ideal time to upsell, so try to get your best servers on the floor.
Traditionally, happy hour is used to fill in the time slot between lunch and dinner. But there are no real rules you need to follow. If you have a more appropriate time, you can schedule your happy hours differently. For instance, an outstanding time for many restaurants is after dinner, between 9 pm and midnight.
You also need to think about how you’ll get people in the door. Traditional advertising can be expensive and might undercut the whole point of staging a happy hour in the first place. Instead, you’ll want to get creative.
Enticing influencers in your area with a free meal could be an excellent way to spread the word. Or, you might offer a free drink for people who post a picture tagging your business on Instagram. The idea is to get as creative as possible to reach the right audience.
A good promotion will get people into your establishment, but a great atmosphere and fun activities will keep them there.
If you have a lot of outdoor space, you’re in luck. You can stage any number of games and events – or even competitions. Think of things like flip cups, darts, or other crowd-pleasers. And if you’re trying to maintain a more upscale vibe, trivia nights and live music are always popular.
Hopefully, some of these ideas resonated with you, and you can use them for your next happy hour. You only need to remember a few guiding principles to get you through.
Customers who come to happy hour are attracted to value. So give them both drink and food options that are value-priced. However, don’t forget to add a few premium options, as well. When it comes to promotion, a little creativity goes a long way and could save you a lot of money.
We’d love to hear about your best happy hour ideas and tricks. And, if you need some more advice about staging a happy hour, drop us a line.
Or, come down and see how we do it! Call us today to reserve a table and enjoy elevated Southern cooking, the way it’s meant to be.