Happy Hours can be a great marketing strategy to draw traffic to your establishment. Make sure to know the laws and restrictions as they vary state by state. Until 2015, Illinois had the most restrictive happy hour laws in the country. It is now possible to have an enticing Happy Hour however certain restrictions still apply. You cannot offer a free drink for winning a game. Be sure to remember that if your bar or restaurant hosts a trivia night. The intent of the laws are to ensure patrons don’t become over served, which is, of course, the common goal of every responsible restaurateur. A list of current requirements can be found on the State of Illinois’ site.
Some things to think about to create traffic and a successful Happy Hour are:
Promote: in IL you have to promote seven days in advance and can have a maximum of 15 hours. You can mix that 15 hour increment up any way you want to. A great idea is to have a theme for each day of the week you need traffic. Be creative. How many restaurants have a Happy Hour on a Saturday? None that I know of. If you’re in a competitive spot, create a Saturday Happenin’ Happy hour from 3 to 5, your patrons may just turn into dinner patrons. If you want families, you can create a Family Hour.
Tiered pricing and Clever Food Pairings: Create a select beer, a house white and red wine, and a craft cocktail offering at a introductory price of $3 to $5. The next tier will be $5 to $7 and the last tier will be $7 to $9. Of course, use numbers that reflect your target profit goals, the patron you want to attract and your current inventory. Couple it with some interesting food offerings. Unique Hummus using a bean beside garbanzo (red, black, cannelloni) relish trays, hot and cold options, don’t forget the vegans and the vegetarians. There are plenty of non-drinkers out there. Interesting food pairings will draw them in and make the whole group happy. Me personally? The clever offerings usually draw me in, however I’m selective about what I eat and drink. The Happy Hour entices me because of the fun and the connection to the venue, but I almost always order something off the main menu.
Experiment with times: There really are no rules. Happy Hours do not have to be Monday through Friday in three hour increments from three to six. Change it up. The element of surprise will be refreshing. People work anytime, all the time. What is your typical patron’s life like and what offering would appeal to them? Would they be into a Happy Hour from seven to nine on a Thursday night because they work at home on Fridays? Monitor daily sales, test concepts, measure them against your goals and do more of what’s working.
Servers Should Up-sell: Your servers might not be excited about working Happy Hours as the average tickets will be lower. Unfortunately, many patrons don’t tip on the full price but tip on the dollar amount they see in front of them. Remember – there are no rules. The servers can sell the whole menu. The group that just came in is looking for a good time. There’s no reason, the server can’t make the experience more enjoyable for the patron by suggesting more profitable options. If some servers do better than others with up-selling, have them share best practices at the pre-shift meeting. Also, remind them that happy hour often brings in more patrons so while each ticket might be lower their section might be fuller helping to make up for the tip differential.
Promote Again: Brand your Happy Hours so patrons consistently know when to come and what to expect. You can have Moneyless Mondays (as in I don’t have any Money because it’s Monday). Tipsy Tuesdays, Well Wednesdays (using your Well Drink Specials). Flatbread Fridays would be great to grab the folks that have friends that don’t drink and compete with the many Friday options. Splash your message over all the free social media channels available: Instagram and Facebook are naturals for restaurants. Don’t forget the effective marketing channel of a sign in the window or a tent blackboard sign out in front
Clever Happy Hours are a creative tool to develop a consistent clientele and a more loyal following.