Happy hour. To the working masses, these are some of the, well, happiest words out there. Everyone loves a great value, and everyone loves a cocktail after quitting time. By combining these two things, you’ve got the recipe for late afternoon success in your restaurant.
But how can you ensure that your happy hour is a bustling success that drives sales, rather than a ho-hum affair where you’re offering cheap drinks to a handful of people? By thinking creatively. Here, we’ll profile nine awesome ideas for maximizing your happy hour potential. From inspirations for pairings and event ideas to out of the box promotional ideas, these ideas are bound to spark your imagination and improve your happy hour offerings.
What is happy hour? Just in case you’re unsure of what “happy hour” means, let’s clear that up. “Happy hour” is a marketing term, referring to a finite period of time during which alcoholic drinks are offered at a discount. Often, it’s more than just an hour; a typically happy hour range might be 5-7pm or 3-5 pm. Originally created to increase profits during the slow pre-dinner times in a restaurant, this concept has taken off in a big way, and now extends beyond drinks to appetizers and food. Even non-food establishments such as retail stores or service providers use the term “happy hour” to denote limited specials.
9 Awesome Happy Hour Deal Ideas. If you’re new to offering happy hour, these ideas will get you started on the right foot. Even if you’re a happy hour veteran, you will probably get some new inspiration from this list!
Offer small plates at small prices. Everyone knows that specially-priced drinks are the essence of happy hour. But don’t forget about food! Having food specials during happy hour not only helps drive sales, but it encourages people to linger and order another round. Many restaurants focus on small plates or appetizers during this time; when a group orders a few, the cost of the bill adds up, often to even higher than if the customers ordered entrees. Plus, by offering smaller dishes only, you leave customers the room and appetite to decide if they’d like to stay for dinner.
Offer a late night happy hour. Why stop at just one happy hour? Though typically happy hour is offered during the after-work hours (say, between 5 and 7pm), a concept which has gained a lot of traction in recent years is the “late night happy hour”. Often, restaurants will have a second happy hour just when the restaurant business is beginning to die down. In a quieter community this might be at 9pm; in a big, bustling city, the second happy hour might be at 11pm. Offering a second special can help maximize sales during slower hours at your restaurant.
Have daily happy hour specials. Give customers an incentive to keep coming back. Don’t have the same happy hour every day: mix it up a little bit. For instance, perhaps on Mondays you offer a special price on craft beer, then on tuesdays it’s mixed drinks, and so on. Or, offer different foods on special on different days. By mixing up your happy hour, you give people a reason to come back throughout the week.
Create theme nights. In the age of the #hashtag, people love a good, catchy theme for their evening outing (and are far more likely to share the experience on social media). This can be an effective way of marketing your restaurant, and your happy hour. For instance, perhaps you host “Tiki Tuesday” with tropical drinks, then have a “Winesday” special on Wednesday. Offering themed nights is a natural progression from having a different happy hour each evening, and it gives an air of novelty and fun to your establishment.
Have a special pop-up event. Pop-up events are all the rage these days. Many restaurants will do creative things like have a guest chef come in and create a special happy hour menu or appetizer. For instance, maybe a local sushi chef comes into your Taqueria and makes a unique Japanese-inspired ceviche for a happy hour special. Or perhaps you hose the producer of the cream you use in your cooking and desserts, who could come in and offer a demo or host a tasting.
Host a contest or competition. Combine happy hour with a little friendly competition! Perhaps you’ll have a darts contest hosted during happy hour, or maybe you’ll host a trivia event. By adding an activity to the mix, people will engage, order more rounds of drinks, and make you more money. It improves the overall customer experience in your restaurant, and will make people associate your establishment with fun and creativity.
Make it an outing. In Albuquerque, NM, one establishment offers a cool brunch happy hour special: they offer an inexpensive 1-hour yoga class on their patio before they open, and then when they do open to serve food directly after, your first margarita is less the cost of the yoga session. While offering yoga and margaritas might not be the right fit for your restaurant, perhaps there is inspiration to be drawn by pairing an activity with your happy hour. Engaging in an activity then enjoying a “happy hour” style special is a great and engaging way to promote your restaurant–and to solicit free press, as it is of interest and will likely grab traction in local papers.
Offer a mystery incentive. According to Nightclub.com, one NYC bar offers a special where every day, they choose a name. Say it’s “Charlie” or “Melissa”. If you come in and it’s your name, you get a free drink. Of course, companions are free to pay the happy hour price. Making a special like this adds an element of adventure and fun; how could you cleverly add a promotion like this to your happy hour?
Have a guest bartender. This promotion is simple, but effective. Find “celebrity” bartenders to assist or host bar during happy hour; rather than hiring them, it would be a one night affair. It can be a local celebrity, or maybe just a regular at your establishment. It’s a fun way to mix things up and engage with your local community, and adds just enough novelty to happy hour to bring people out.
Happy hour is a great way to bring customers into your establishment in a low-stress way so that they can discover who you are and what you offer. By offering creative happy hour specials, you’ll make your establishment memorable and create repeat customers who might just decide to stay for dinner, and who will definitely bring friends next time.
What happy hour specials do you offer at your restaurant?