George Barton: Making Your Day Parts More Productive

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Tracking food and beverage sales by day part is a time-honored restaurant practice to ensure that operators get the most out of the busiest times and know where to concentrate their traffic-boosting efforts. At the upcoming 2017 VIBE Conference, consultant George Barton will focus a panel of operators during a presentation entitled “Get Your Day Part GROOVE On-Track.” An old hand at chain restaurant beverage practices from his years with TGI Friday’s, Barton will be looking to explore best in class deliverables and what it takes to continuously drive beverage revenue during key day parts, especially Happy Hour and Late Night.

VIBE: Where do you see the current state of Happy Hour in the chain environment?

George Barton: I’m seeing everything, all across the board. I spent 35 years in chain beverage when trends were fairly distinct but now I’m seeing nothing consistent. So, I expect our panel will be focusing on things like how different people are making Happy Hour work with food and beverage today.

VIBE: Did Happy Hour just die out?

Barton: I don’t think Happy Hour ever left, but folks are definitely looking at it differently. I’ve been a long-time proponent of what I call the three basics of Happy Hour: vibrant point of purchase efforts, getting the right features in place, and having the right amount of labor in place. But today I see concepts with 9, 10, 11 different features, features from the well, 7 or 8 craft beers and wines… This isn’t keeping it simple and they are simply going too deep. Then there are those who do the simple 5 for $5, or 7 for $7, or some variation including both food and beverage, but I’m not seeing much consistency.

VIBE: Do legal issues have an impact?

Barton: One of the major issues is that a lot of the smaller players are concerned about the law regarding discounts at Happy Hour. I recently conducted some research on a Happy Hour program I developed for Pizzeria Uno, and I call them the A, B and C states. In the A states, about 30 to 35 of them, you can do just about anything in terms of discounting and calling out of features. In the 15 to 20 B states, there are some restrictions on what you can offer, and where, when and how you can serve and promote. The C category, which is basically Massachusetts, you pretty much can’t do anything with discounts and it’s all based on food. That complicates things for a chain. I see many concepts, especially smaller brands, afraid of the law, and they either walk gingerly along the path or do nothing at all.

VIBE: Late night Happy Hours are growing, we’ve heard.

Barton: It’s a whole new day part. A lot of smaller brands, independents and hotels are just beginning to catch on to it because of the Millennials, the “zero to 60 in nothing flat” generation who go out later. So for them, from 9:00 or 10:00 PM to close is a whole new day part that’s getting much more attention for food and beverage, and it’s an opportunity.

VIBE: How is the approach to food changing?

Barton: The buffets are mostly gone, although some maybe do it one day a week. But in general, it’s too expensive, there’s too much waste and too many health department issues. But the role that food plays in smaller brands is different, as chefs are providing more of a voice. I see more chefs and chains getting away from wings and the loaded skins and the sliders and doing more regional things. For example, in the Southeast, you’ll see more things like entrees with discounted prices like shrimp and grits and chicken and biscuits; in other areas, fried dumplings or short ribs.

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