Restaurant Industry Insights

Restaurants and Bars Re-imaging Happy Hours

Do you remember Cheers, the fictional bar in Boston where “everyone knows your name”? The sitcom celebrated the neighborhood bar and is a little reminiscent of the marketing tool known as the happy hour. 

While still popular, happy hours used to be “the thing.” Get off work and meet a few friends at the neighborhood eatery for some great drinks and food, specially priced if you could get there between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. It was designed to draw in patrons during the slower hours when chairs sat empty, before the dinner rush, and after lunch.

Today, it feels more like an afterthought. What happened? Did the pandemic lay waste to yet another long-time tradition? Did one-time guests create the perfect “happy hour” setting at home when they could no longer stop in for a cold one? Or did the hybrid workforce dissolve the after-work camaraderie inherent in happy hours? And, if this is the case, how do we entice them back?

Let’s explore how the happy hour has evolved and if it still has a place in your marketing strategy.

Becoming an Outlaw

Did you know several states ban happy hours? Alaska, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington believe it contributes to alcohol-related accidents and put it on the unlawful list. It’s also illegal in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Vermont, though, in these states, restaurants and bars can offer drink specials during certain times of the day or evening. Interesting. 

If you live in one of these states, this article is not for you. If caught breaking happy hour laws, you could face fines or lose your liquor license. Make sure to check with your local Alcoholic Beverage Control office to find out the laws in your area.

The Benefit of Happy Hours

Happy hours, in essence, set aside specific periods when restaurants and bars offer specials and discounts on certain drinks and appetizers to bring in more guests. Customers tend to have a drink or two and order an appetizer or light entrée, making the discounts doable. They also tend to stay even after the witching hour when “happy hour” is no longer. 

You can also use happy hours to promote a particular brand or move product. It’s the perfect atmosphere for trying out small plates, new drinks, or your latest mocktail and getting your customers’ suggestions and reviews.

Running a Successful Happy Hour

The success of your happy hour depends on your menu, special offerings, ambiance, and entertainment. The first step is deciding what days and times you want to offer it. Typically, they take place Monday through Friday and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Happy hours usually encompass two to three hours, ideally days and times that would otherwise be slow. Like an LTO, this time limit delivers a sense of urgency.

Some brands change themes based on the season or their location. Happy hour pairing menus for upscale brands allow customers to try new items they wouldn’t usually order. Tasting flights offer a unique experience. Shareables and pitchers are great for groups. Go in with a well-known brewery and host exclusive taproom-only beers. Your creativity and ingenuity are the only limits.

A beach theme on a Friday night might focus on tropical drinks and seafood with island music playing in the background. Some establishments bring in live music, while others provide high-performance audio through in-ceiling speakers. Remember the bottom line: attract new customers, create brand-loyal guests, and increase revenue. 

Retaining a Profit

According to SimpleTexting, the average happy hour check comes to about $69. Servers and bartenders can significantly affect these sales through upselling. In fact, all staff should be trained on this critical sales technique, looking at it as a way to enhance the guest experience while increasing profits and tips. Many guests might want to try a higher-end brand or add items to their order, but they’re unaware of the possibilities. 

The only way to genuinely measure your success is by keeping a watchful eye on the numbers. Know your profit margins for each item, the best sellers, and the team members who are your top sellers. Then, make sure to incentivize their efforts.

Promoting Your Happy Hour

Google “happy hour near me,” and you may (or may not) see several possibilities. With a quick glimpse, you’ll notice some repetition: $5 beers, $8 wines, $10 cocktails, and $6 – $12 bar bites or small plates. 

How do you make your happy hour stand out from the rest? 

Happy hours are, by nature, social events. It may take some time for word to get around, but once it does, you’ll notice an increasing number of guests. As with all marketing, knowing your target market and tailoring your happy hour and marketing strategy toward them is critical. It’s a different strategy depending on whether your guests are corporate employees, students, or sports enthusiasts. 

Make sure you’ve highlighted your happy hour on your website by telling a story. Instagram and Facebook are made for promoting these special events, from taking pictures of unique food and drinks to promoting live music or flights. 

FAQS

How do you promote happy hours?

The best way to promote your happy hour is by creatively placing it on your website and social media. Post your specials on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, sharing photos and inviting your guests to do the same.

How can I make my happy hour profitable?

When creating a menu, choose highly profitable items. Then, bring in the volume through marketing. Evaluate it regularly, including profitability, revenue, table turn time, and gross margins.

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