Happy Days are Here Again

Best in Bar ManagementTweaking the Old Tricks Brings in New Guests for Happy Hour, the Mother of all Promotions

Lately it seems everyone is coveting the ever-elusive happy hour crowd. The reason? Happy hour is that bewitching hour between lunch and dinner when you can generate high sales during a traditionally slow period and seed your dinner crowd by transitioning guests from the bar to the table. It’s hard to obtain those guests and keep the “right” crowd, but they’re desirous — required, even — because a good happy hour business is a sign you’re doing well.

So what separates the haves from the have-nots? Well for starters, the haves have. They have people. And people beget people. When you have people, you have energy. When you have energy, you have a happening happy hour. And when you have all that, you are happening, you are hot — you are the place people go to see and be seen, the place they want to go and spend their money and the place they talk about to their friends, family and coworkers.

Everyone in the industry (you know you are guilty of it, too) waxes nostalgic about the good old days and the creative methods they used years ago to get a happy hour crowd in the door. Looking into the past will give us answers on how to run a successful happy hour for the crowd of today and of the future. So, it’s time to be creative about targeting the crowd you want by using a few old tricks, but doing so in a brand-new way that leads to a happy hour nirvana for right now.


Best in Bar Management

Stacking the Bar

In the past, we hired models to come sit in our bars and drink for free, knowing they would lure in the businessmen after work. The businessmen lured in the businesswomen, who lured in other businessmen, and soon enough we didn’t need the models anymore. Now that was ingenuity at its finest! But how can we create that attraction today?

First of all, today’s consumer is savvy. It will take more than a pretty face to bring them to the bar. The new model is the brand ambassador — someone hired to talk about your bar, and talk about it a lot. These consumers are regulars who love your bar and your happy hour. They invite their friends, coworkers and family. They talk about you at dinners, at parties and at other bars. They even talk about you at the grocery store, the salon and the dry cleaner. They tweet or post your events. They are your best advertisers, and they are at your happy hour on a regular basis. All you have to do is find a regular customer who seems to have a genuine passion for your bar, and then make them an offer they can’t refuse. Everyone wins! They talk up your bar, and you take care of them.

You Have a VIP Card, Too?

Remember the VIP card? It was like a credit card in shape and style when credit cards were cool. It allowed people to skip the line or get in free. But like the old saying, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member,” the VIP card loses its luster when too many people have one. The newer version of this concept is the loyalty program.

“But everyone has a loyalty program,” you say. Then make yours stand out. What is it that would make your loyalty program successful? For starters, you use this program to treat your loyal customers like the kings and queens they are. Give them special privileges they can’t get anywhere else — allow them to host their own happy hour parties in your bar, inviting friends and coworkers to “their party” where they all get free appetizers and drink specials; give them exclusive tickets to events; provide them with giveaways or something special each time they visit to let them know how much you appreciate their loyalty. This is no “buy 10 and get the 11th free” type of loyalty program. This is the program for the people who have really helped build your business — people as invested in your success as you are. And that’s a good thing.

Free Parties!

Remember the business card drop? You’d pick a card each day and give away a happy hour party? Well, last I checked, everyone still likes a free party; it’s the method that needs to change.

Now, you can use e-mail, Facebook or Twitter for the same purpose. Send out or post a graphic that customers can use as an e-vite. The graphic is an invitation or e-vite customers can send around the office or to their friends, inviting them to join that customer at your bar for a Happy Hour Party. Book one party, or even a few, each day and you automatically “stack” the bar with people so when other people walk in the door, the place is hopping.

Social Blitz

In the olden days, you would send out a team of two upbeat, professional-looking employees to blitz local businesses with fliers hyping your happy hour. Those days are long gone. Instead we’re in the new social media age, complete with tweets, posts and blogs. It’s time to get on board and get some new customers in your bar for happy hour!

You’re likely wondering if it’s really worth the time to dedicate staff members to create and post updates on Facebook and Twitter. In short, absolutely, 100 percent yes! On these networks, you can build your clientele by offering freebies for becoming a friend or follower. Then, keep the momentum going by offering exclusive shows, events and specials to your friends. But beware: If you use these social media tools to benefit yourself alone, your friends will catch on pretty quickly and dump you just as fast. Make sure the offers are truly special and beneficial to them — something unique that they can’t get anywhere else — and that the promotions you post will drive business.

For example, a post about 3-4-5 Happy Hour Thursday Night featuring $3 beer, $4 wine and $5 cocktails isn’t geared to gain much business. But post information about a Party on the Patio with $5 Cocktails After 5 p.m. at which the first 25 customers will get $25 in appetizers, and you’re sure to get them in the door.

You can use these online mediums in multiple ways, such as polling customers to vote on the specials, bands and features they want to see at happy hour or having weekly/daily winners for posting party pics on your page. Lastly, let’s not forget review sites and blogs. Take the time to read what people are saying about you, and make sure you are saying complimentary things about yourself, too. They say it takes 10 positive comments to make up for one negative one, and I believe it!

The Price is Right

Deep discounting has always worked in the past — 25-cent beer, $1 you-call-its, $4 pitchers and so on. However, those are not the tactics you want to use to lure in a crowd. Today, it’s all about the perception of value. Quality is still the word of the day, with customers expecting high-end wines, craft beers and signature cocktails. Plus, they are willing to pay a little more for it, despite what you might think given today’s economy.

Successful happy hours offer a selection of high-quality libations at affordable prices, including great-tasting cocktails and wines by the glass — and that means quality wines, not that stuff from the jug they pour down the street. Customers don’t mind paying if they feel they are getting a good value. Many successful bars, wine bars and restaurants implement a $5 menu featuring wines and cocktails with discounted happy hour food items.

And speaking of food, that dreaded free happy hour buffet is no more, and good riddance. Just like your beverage selections, the food items also must step it up a notch. Offer a choice of high-end bites for a set price or a group of three items for one price — for example, all appetizers could be $5 or let customers pick any three appetizers for $12.

They say what’s old is new again, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to getting guests in your bar for happy hour. So go out there and get you some — some people, that is — and become one of the haves. NCB

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