Taking Happy Hour to the Next Level


Often considered the “4th daypart” due to its popularity, happy hour creates an unmissable opportunity to develop new business. According to Nielsen, U.S. bars and restaurants generate 60.5% of their average weekly sales from happy hour. This designated time is a chance for bars and restaurants to turn quiet hours into strong sales. It’s also an excellent occasion to introduce new menu items and experiment with new cocktail trends. Putting a little thought and effort into your happy hour program can result in big profits and a diverse and loyal pre-dinner crowd.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Happy hour is the hook that gets customers in the door. If satisfied, they will come back for dinner and most likely bring friends. Research from Technomic Inc. reveals that 46% of guests consider great drink prices to be top priority; however, 41% are drawn in by food. Take this opportunity to refine your appetizer menu, offering small plates at lower price points in order to boost beverage sales. Analyze each menu item for popularity and profitability, keeping only those that offer both. Since socialization is the number one reason people attend happy hour – make sure your food reflects that by creating a menu meant for sharing. For example, a large (or small) seasonal sharing board consisting of low prep, room temperature items such as pickled vegetables, spreads, cheeses, and toasted bread is great for a group; rotating house-made jams and spiced honey will help keep this choice fresh for regular guests.

Smart Planning

When developing new menu items, consider using ingredients that can be cross-utilized with other dayparts, reducing waste, saving money, and simplifying inventory. Try a cost-saving strategy like miniaturizing your main dishes; if you serve a salmon entrée, create a small plate salmon crostini with house-made aioli and fried capers. Giving customers a small taste may increase the likeliness they’ll return for dinner another night. Utilize other items besides proteins to maximize products and limit waste – for example, if you use polenta in an entrée, make polenta fries with rosemary ketchup as a happy hour appetizer. Or create vegetable fritto misto (Italian for “mixed fried”) with fresh herbs and lemon using mixed seasonal vegetables from an entrée. Check out Kogi™ L.A. Street Sauces and Ken’s® Essential Dressings as inspiration for constructing appetizers with interesting flavor profiles and time-saving benefits.

Make Your Mark

It can be beneficial to become known for one great signature item. Get creative with one high-end app sourced from top-quality producers that will hook guests and entice them to try others on your menu. For example, serve raw oysters from Maines’ Just In Time (JIT) seafood program and establish happy hour pricing for oysters on the half shell served with a signature mignonette. Or, if you’re known for great burgers, create a slider menu with special pricing. Promote any locally sourced ingredients and offer happy hour pricing on local-brewed beers and flights to excite customers about the craft products you have to offer. Include a pub-style menu to complement the beer featuring wings, nachos, tater tot skewers, or meatballs. See our recipe for Grilled Cumin-Garlic Basted Meatball Anticuchos perfect for an ethnic happy hour pub offering. The idea is to get customers through the door with a few great deals, then keep them in their seats with drool-worthy food and drinks.

Timing is Everything

Timing is another important consideration…. who says happy hour has to be in the evening? Morning happy hour can boost your breakfast crowd, while day-long happy hour can garner crowds during the afternoon “lull”. One-third of millennials say they’d visit a restaurant more often if it stayed open later (Technomic Inc.). Imagine creating a late-night happy hour, not only for this coveted customer group but also for those who work at non-traditional times. Forty-one percent of customers aged 21-34 say late-night happy hour specials are very important when deciding which bar or restaurant to visit (restaurant.org). Choose a time that suits your establishment and customer base, keeping in mind that consistency is key to generating loyal customers. Use social media as free advertising, using the words “happy hour” frequently so as to appear in Google searches.

A Night to Remember

Pair your daring, unique food offerings with inventive experiences like trivia, theme nights, and signature themed cocktails. Offer daily pairings, such as oysters with Belgian tripel, barbecue beef sliders with stout, or salmon crostini with dry white wine by the glass. Be bold and include bottomless offerings with intriguing elements, such as house-made sangria or light cocktails like aperol spritz. Bottomless anything is a marketing device that is not used often enough; it keeps customers eating and having a great time, ensuring they will come back again for more – the ultimate goal of a successful happy hour.

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