Make Happy Hour Work for You

Restaurant Success Tips

During that magical time called happy hour, your restaurant is sure to bring in customers with this beloved worldwide tradition. Everyone loves saving money, especially when eating out and spending time to unwind. Happy hours are typically between 4 P.M. and 7 P.M. or late night until closing time. A modern twist seen more often is the breakfast or brunchtime happy hour. 

The secret to swinging a successful happy hour is to offer enough of a discount to draw guests in the door, then capture that traffic for a full-price meal. Your marketing should be compelling enough to draw traffic, and staff and menu should be prepared to seal the deal.

So, where did it all begin? “Happy Hour” began as a nautical term, in homage to the allotted hour of time where sailors could engage in various forms of entertainment to relieve the monotonies of naval life during the war. Over time, this evolved into the beloved term of today, which has expanded to a three- or four-hour event.

Happy Hour or Not?

If you haven’t explored the journey into happy hour, there are many reasons give it a try. Not only do guests save money, but your business can also enjoy a boost in sales from new and regular customers. Well-organized happy hour events and specials may become the go-to for locals and tourists alike. Depending on the expectations of your customers, your happy hour specials may become their mainstay dishes.

Happy hour does not have a set time of day, so make it your own to fill in during otherwise slow periods during the day. Create a buzz about your restaurant. Expose guests to a special drink from “the bar” at an alluring price. Generate loyalty for repeat business. Introduce new guests to your regular menu. Encourage your guests to visit your restaurant more often. Build your brand!

The continued boom of “cocktail culture” over the past decade has shown that consumers love a good value, not just a good price. Your happy hour should feature unique offerings to attract guests, promote your business, and differentiate your restaurant from the other bars down the street.

More Than the Basic Happy Hour

A basic happy hour menu consists of drinks, cocktails, and simple dishes of smaller portioned appetizers and tapas. While the typical happy hour is to simply offer a discount on some of your standard drinks or appetizers, try creating a “happy-hour only” menu.

When customers know that they can only try certain cocktails or tapas during your happy hour, they’ll be more likely to stop by and check it out. If your guests love a certain chef specialty, put it in your happy hour with a smaller portion, or mixed varieties and watch your sales skyrocket. Discount and display the things that you hope will interest guests and keep them coming back. Give them a taste of what you’re all about.

Since happy hour tends to be a group event, offer special deals specific to couples or groups. Deals on appetizer platters, charcuterie trays, or deep discounts on pitchers will make your happy hour a destination. Be sure to rearrange seating to accommodate groups of more than four if your tables are smaller. Also, work with your point-of-sale vendor to ensure that tracking and trends of happy hour and group specials can be reviewed regularly.

To save your restaurant and customers any dismay or regrets, research happy hours in bars and restaurants in your local area. Discover what drink specials they offer, the amount of a typical discount, and any other unique or popular characteristics. Be sure to check out their social media platforms and in-establishment marketing tactics. Pay attention to close competition, independent, and upscale restaurants. Especially in larger cities, many upscale establishments offer happy hours with both food and drink specials.

Stretching the Hard-earned Dollar

While considering your bottom line, look at your best-selling and highest profit margin drinks and dishes. Take time and use creativity in building a happy hour menu. Generally, customers who feel they are saving money tend to spend a little more overall than if they had paid regular price. Remember to focus on what the happy hours are prone to, such as:

  • Any time before noon is fabulous for mimosas, Bloody Mary variations, and bellinis. These do well to further the appetite for an extra side dish to top it all off.
  • 4 P.M. is perfect for drink and alcohol specials to drive people into staying for dinner.
  • 2 P.M. or after 7 P.M. is great for the tapas and shareable plates, to spur purchases of cocktails and other drinks

Don’t feel constrained by traditional happy hours: feel free to offer it when it makes sense for your customers and your menu. While happy hour beckons to many people who are just getting out of their 9-5 jobs, remember to include people who don’t keep typical hours. Interested in boosting late-night traffic? Consider end-of-the-night specials or offer a later happy hour that starts at 10 pm. Unlike traditional happy hours, late-night deals attract students, young businesspeople, and couples, so you can expand your clientele. Set yourself apart from other happy hours in your area and attract different groups of customers.

Smarter Marketing Tactics

Create a menu or display signs that advertise your happy hour information to all patrons such as display cards or a prominently placed chalkboard specials sign. Remember to update your website and social media channels, and loyalty app. They can help promote your happy hour through non-traditional channels with little cost. 

What to Know Before You Get Too Happy

Unfortunately, not all states love happy hour. Currently, about half of the states prohibit some variation of happy hour or drink offers, including Massachusetts, which was the first state to do so in 1984. Other states, like Pennsylvania, have extended the minimum happy hour period to four hours, which encourages restaurants to schedule specials as they please. Furthermore, some states allow all-day only specials. Internationally, the rules differ as happy hours have been banned in Ireland, yet the rest of the UK follows an entirely different set of restrictions. Check your state regulations to make sure you are following laws in your area.

In closing, make happy hour your own, build your brand, and treat new and regular customers to great offerings, special menus, and great opportunities to relax.

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