Should You Run a Happy Hour for Your Bar?

The answer to this question is “Yes”. Bam! Article finished. Hope you enjoyed. See you next time.

Ok, just kidding. About the article being done, not about happy hour. I’m not fence-riding this topic, and I’m not going to string you along and wait until the end to give you the answer. Yes, you should be running a happy hour in your bar for a myriad of reasons. It’s bar management 101.

If you’re completely new to this whole running a bar game, let’s talk turkey. The main purpose of happy hour is to draw in a crowd during slower times during the day in order to increase sales, but also entice them to stay for dinner. The term “Happy Hour” can be traced back to the late 1800’s when primarily women would have “Happy Hour Social Clubs”, but the phrase wasn’t used in the bar setting until the 1950’s when it showed up in an article in the Saturday Evening Post.

Now that you’ve had your history lesson, let’s get back to why happy hour is important.

As of now, a recent survey showed that 38% of adults go out to happy hour AT LEAST once per month. In addition, 35% of those who go out to happy hour will stay for dinner. Why would we even need to go any further? There is no way you should be running a business and missing out on more than 1/3 of the population.

However, we will do our due diligence and go through the pros and cons of happy hour so you can make your own decision and feel like a real boss.

THE CONS OF HAPPY HOUR

The main problem with happy hour is that the word itself can be interpreted as being synonymous with “cheap”. This can draw the most obnoxious crowd of people looking to get boozed up for the least amount of money possible. You should be aware that even though happy hour brings in more people, bartenders are not always fired up about it because this demographic is often made up of cheap spenders, which usually make cheap tippers as well.

Which brings us to the other negative factor when it comes to happy hour: people can get wasted on very little money, which can trigger liability issues. Bartenders and servers should be well-versed in serving responsibly, especially to a group of people whose sole purpose is to buy more booze for less money. Remember, just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s ok to over-serve.

Now, heavily discounting is often a fear of bar managers and owners, and even though I have this in the “con” section, I don’t want you to think of it that way. The only way it’s a con is if you are careless and put your most expensive items on the menu. Remember, the purpose of happy hour is to get people in your place, which means it’s less of a sales and profit tactic (although you can increase sales and make more profit) and more of a marketing tactic. The discounts you give are sort of like paid marketing. You are enticing people to come into your bar so you can give them a great experience so they will tell other people and come back. Make sense? Good.

The only other real con to running a good happy hour is that it takes extra work and organization. You’ll need to sit down with your chef, your bartenders and managers to determine food and drink specials. In addition, you’ll need to have menus printed up, and you’ll want to promote it on your website and possibly with signs or table tents as well.

This is all part of running a bar, but I know some owners and managers who will blow off happy hour simply because they think it’s too much work, which means they should just stay at home and watch binge-watch Game of Thrones and work at a gas station, because the truth is, if most other bars in your area are running a happy hour and you’re not, where do you think they will go around 4:00 in the afternoon? And after that, where will they stay for dinner? Yep, you nailed it. And that’s because you’re much smarter than those “bare minimum managers”.

THE PROS OF HAPPY HOUR

For the pros, let’s start with the obvious here. With good food and drink specials, happy hour is going to get butts in your seats. People love a good deal, and more butts = more sales. And not in a prostitute sort of way either. The better your happy hour, the more often guests will come in, which leads us to the second reason…

It creates regulars, and regulars are the golden ticket to making a profit in your bar because it costs 4 – 5 times more to acquire new customers than it does to keep existing ones. Not only are gaining more regulars a financially smart strategy, but having a room full of regulars who know each other creates a good feeling of familiarity in your bar, and now those regulars are even more committed to your bar because they want to go, well…where everybody knows their name, as the show Cheers was so famous for conveying.

It all snowballs from there, because regulars will tell other people about the great happy hour they experience each week, which is word-of-mouth advertising, which is absolutely free.

And finally, we’ve already mentioned this happy hour pro: people will often stay after happy hour and order dinner and possibly more drinks. At full price. Or they might order something to go. That’s just smart business.

WHAT TIME SHOULD I RUN HAPPY HOUR?

Happy hour times can vary slightly, but the main time of day to run it is right between lunch and dinner. A common time is 3:00 – 6:00. Some bars will do 3:00 – 5:00 or even 3:00 – 7:00, which is bit late in my opinion because it overlaps with dinner. You’ll need to pick a time you’re most comfortable with, and keep it to the weekdays, unless you think you can gain an advantage by offering it on the weekends.

Another strategy for those bars/restaurants that serve food later is to run a reverse happy, around 9:00 to midnight. This usually attracts a younger crowd, like college students or other bar and restaurant hospitality workers. You’ll need to decide what hours are best for you, but just make sure you are plugging in a happy hour during slow times.

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE FOR HAPPY HOUR?

Here’s where you need to sit down with your chef and your bar manager and figure what you can serve that’s tasty and affordable for both your guests and the business. Your cost percentages might run a little higher for happy hour since you’re discounting, but if you’re smart, you can keep your costs down.

For example, for food it’s not always smart to put wings on the happy hour menu because they can be very expensive. It’s very important that you item cost everything. Offering cheaper options like nachos, street tacos and pretzel bites allow you to serve tasty treats at a lower cost. In addition, don’t serve a regular portion size. If you have nachos on the regular menu for $8 and you offer them at happy hour for $4, don’t make them the same size. Portion control is very important here.

For the bar, you can offer $2 off beer, wine and well cocktails, or 1/2 off, or whatever is feasible, but you’ll want to make sure to make sure that the offer is enticing. Read that again, because it’s very important. I just got back from South Lake Tahoe and we went out to a BBQ place that was great, but their happy hour wasn’t attractive at all. Here’s what they offered.



$1 off drinks and appetizers isn’t going to cause a hoard of frenzied bar-goers to bust down your door with excitement. Think about it…

You come in for happy hour and decide to have an appetizer and a beer. The appetizer is normally $10 and the IPA you like is normally $6. During happy hour you pay $9 and $5, so when you’re finished, your bill is $14 instead of $16. WHOOOO-HOOOOO!!! YEAH!!!!

(That was sarcasm, for you slower audience members) This special is not exactly something you’ll be sharing with the world, especially when the bar down the street is offering half-off appetizers and beers. They’re giving a 50% discount, while this place is giving a 10% discount. Who’s going to win that battle?

Again, don’t give away the house, but make it enticing and memorable.

OFFER A HAPPY HOUR COCKTAIL MENU

One of the great things we always do with happy hour at our bar is offer a separate cocktail menu just for happy hour. We usually make these fruity and refreshing and we can make them at a happy hour cost to us by using flavored well liquor that only costs $5 – $6 per bottle. Then we will pair with a pucker or liqueur of some sort and some juice, which is also low cost.

On this menu we will make things like a Sunkissed Peach Martini (vodka, peach pucker, pineapple juice, sweet/sour), Apple Martini (vodka, apple pucker, splash of sweet/sour, splash of Sprite) Otter Pop shot or cocktail (grape flavored vodka, blue curacao, cranberry juice and Sprite). You get the point.

The list can go on and on. Simply look up some good refreshing cocktails online and make them on the cheap. That might sound chintzy, but it’s happy hour and the guests understand that they aren’t getting Hendrick’s gin in their cocktail. Or if they don’t understand and start complaining, just pour boiling tar on their heads for being so clueless.

HOW SHOULD I PROMOTE MY HAPPY HOUR?

First and foremost, make sure it’s on your website. In fact, make it a tab up top that they can click on so they can go to a dedicated page about your happy hour. Show the food and drink specials on there (including pictures) and make sure you include the times. If you don’t have a website yet…welp, remember that pot of boiling tar? Yep, you’re next.

And of course, always post on social media. Again, make sure to take pictures and post them on your Facebook/Instagram page. With Facebook you can actually target people within a 20 mile radius of your bar/restaurant that are interested in happy hour. Stick an offer on one of the post for a free appetizer if they share the post, and then come in and mention the post. Being an online presence is muy importante.

You can also do signage and table tents so that when people come in during non-happy hour times, they will notice that you have happy hour and think to come back. You can even put a chalkboard out on the sidewalk during happy hour, listing your specials. This will catch people’s eyes as they are walking by, especially if you make it humorous.

And finally, word-of-mouth. Have your staff talk about and invite your guests in for happy hour. Your staff is your best marketing team by far.

There you go, a happy article for building your happy hour. If you do it right, you can use your happy hour to grow your regulars and increase your overall profits. Remember, the endgame is to always create an outstanding experience that your guests will remember so they want to come back again and again, and great experiences and memories start with a great happy hour.

Thanks for being here. See you next time.

Cheers,

Dave

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