In the restaurant industry, attracting customers goes beyond just serving delicious food. Deals and happy hours have become powerful tools to entice and retain customers, adding value and excitement to their dining experience. In fact, recent data suggests that happy hour could be more important today than ever. While food prices increased by 7.7% between April 2022 and April 2023, restaurants and other food outlets that offered deals actually saw guest counts increase by 8% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the previous year. Clearly, offering discounts is crucial to attracting potential guests to your bar or restaurant.

Picture those typically lackluster weekdays between lunch and dinner when the kitchen buzz is muted, and tables stand expectantly vacant. Now envision those very same hours infused with deals and great food and drinks. That's the power of happy hours. It's all about luring guests when they least expect it, with reduced prices, exclusive offerings, and an atmosphere that promises a remarkable experience.

What is happy hour?

Happy hour is a restaurant and bar marketing strategy where you offer special discounts and promotions on drinks or food items (most likely appetizers) during a designated period of time, usually during late afternoon or early evening. Happy hours in many restaurants and bars are designed to attract new customers during off-peak times. They also help create a lively and friendly atmosphere, making them a popular choice for people looking to unwind, socialize, and enjoy good company while taking advantage of discounted offerings.

Bartenders serving cocktails
By offering happy hour discounts, you can turn a slow daypart into a profitable one. Photo by Crew / Unsplash

Why should I consider happy hours?

Embracing happy hours can be a game-changing strategy. This kind of promotion will not only draw in crowds seeking a great deal but also provide your business with a pleasant ambiance. Imagine the clinking of glasses, the laughter of friends, and the hum of conversations as your happy hour draws in guests looking to unwind after a long day.

Beyond the immediate boost in foot traffic and boost in sales during slow hours, happy hours also have the power to impact positively your business in different ways. Here are 5 more benefits of implementing happy hours:

5 benefits of implementing a happy hour in your business

  1. Build loyalty. Happy hours have the power to create a loyal customer base who associate your business with value and exceptional experiences. Offering consistent deals and happy hours can establish customer loyalty. The Harvard Business Review states that increasing customer retention rates by 5% can lead to a 25%-95% increase in profits.
  2. Showcase menu items. Your happy hour menus can be an excellent opportunity to introduce customers to new or underappreciated menu items. By strategically featuring items that might be less well-known on your regular menu, you introduce your guests to a broader range of your offerings. Happy hour encourages guests to step outside their comfort zone and explore different dishes and drinks.
  3. Compete with rivals. In a highly competitive restaurant industry, offering a happy hour can give you an edge over competitors. A well-planned happy hour menu can do more than just offer drink specials. It can also create a unique experience for guests that can help set you apart.
  4. Generate word-of-mouth marketing. Satisfied customers who enjoy your happy hour will likely share their positive experiences with friends and family, contributing to free word-of-mouth marketing. This ripple effect amplifies your restaurant's reputation, transforming your satisfied guests into passionate brand advocates.
  5. Increase online reviews. When satisfied guests share their enjoyable experiences on social media posts and online reviews, your business becomes a go-to spot for great experiences. This positive buzz is a like a magnet, drawing more customers to your establishment and enhancing your overall visibility on the review and search platforms.
A bartender pours a happy hour cocktail
In addition to driving sales, happy hours can help you showcase new and lesser known menu items and drinks. Photo by Helena Lopes / Unsplash

There's no doubt that a happy hour can be a lucrative and attractive opportunity for your restaurant or bar, but how do you plan and execute a successful happy hour? Crafting a successful happy hour requires a strategic mix of creativity, timing, and value. Here's how to achieve it:

Determine your happy hour times

As we mentioned before, off-peak days and times are hidden gems of your restaurant's schedule. To find those moments when the usual dinner rush takes a breather and tables are longing for company, you need a keen understanding of your business' flow and your customer's habits. Dive into your POS reporting and look into your sales data. There, you'll be able to spot the slow-down patterns and determine the times and hours that benefit you the most.

Once you've identified your slow spots, decide whether you'll want one set happy hour menu or if you want to create specific menus for different days to tap into well-known promo days like Taco Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday.

Create a happy hour menu

A bar menu
Once you figure out the days and times for your happy hours, it's time to create a menu that draws in guests and makes a good profit. Photo by Karen Z / Unsplash

When you think of happy hour, you naturally think of happy hour drinks. But they are not all about alcohol consumption. Studies say that 46% of happy hour goers come for low prices on drinks, and 41% of guests reported that value-priced food was also an attraction. Showcasing a mix of appetizers, finger foods, specialty cocktails, well drinks, and mocktails allows you to attract a variety of guests and also make a profit. Create food and drink pairings, offer sharable snacks, or just go with a theme that you think it's on brand.

Program your pricing events into your POS

Once you have days, times, and happy hour specials figured out, it's time to get it all set up in your cloud-based restaurant POS or bar POS. By programming the happy hour times and menu pricing in advance, you accomplish several things:

  • You help your front-of-house staff work more efficiently when it comes to placing orders and taking payments—no need for them to manually type in discounts or get manager approvals
  • You get better data on the back-end, enabling you to specifically view happy hour sales numbers and perfect your happy hour with menu engineering
  • You help minimize theft by ensuring happy hour discounts are only offered during the set happy hour duration

Prepare and train your staff for happy hour

Another essential part of a successful happy hour is your staff. Not only should they know the specials inside and out, but they should also understand the goals of your happy hour: new customers, more sales, and increased loyalty.

Train your staff on the happy hour offerings, including drink and food specials. Make sure they are able to explain each item and suggest pairings to customers. Also, teach your staff upselling techniques, so they can recommend higher-margin items or suggest adding a food item to a drink order. And finally, emphasize the importance of excellent customer service during happy hour. Friendly, attentive staff can leave a lasting positive impression on customers.

Promote your happy hour drinks and eats with storytelling

Person taking a social media picture of happy hour food with their phone
Once you have all the details nailed down, it's time to promote your happy hour online. Photo by Eaters Collective / Unsplash

Promotions and drink specials are important aspects of making your business successful. One way to make your happy hour stand out is by using marketing storytelling. Telling a story allows you to create a real sense of excitement for most people at your happy hour. Make sure to:

  • Provide descriptions of your dishes and cocktails. Create an ambiance that sets the stage for a remarkable happy hour experience. Don't think of it as discounts or food specials but as an invitation to create unforgettable memories.
  • Add a touch of exclusivity. People love feeling like they're part of an elite club or part of something special. Use phrases like "exclusive offer," "limited-time," or "reserved for our valued guests" to create a sense of urgency and exclusivity.
  • Craft an attractive visual. In this digital age, an image can speak volumes. Snap photos of your dishes and cocktails, and let them do the talking. A compelling image shared across social media can create a frenzy of excitement and anticipation. More than just a picture, it's an invitation to experience the flavors firsthand.
  • Make it personal. Add your personal touch. Craft your promotions with warmth and sincerity. Use words like "join us," "share the joy," and "experience the magic" to create a sense of community.

Turn your happy hour into an event

Happy hours are touted by a lot of businesses, so it can be challenging to set yourself apart from the competition. Instead of relying merely on the attractive lower prices, pair your happy hour with events like trivia, open mic, live music, and other gathering events. You can even collaborate with local businesses (if you are a restaurant, you can invite a local brewery for a "beer o'clock" type of happy hour).

Today, happy hours are more than just time slots. They allow your creativity to flow and create meaningful connections with your guests. When your business embraces the idea of happy hours, you create a fun and attractive ambiance with engaging events, unique food and drink experiences, and great deals that can make your business even more profitable.

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