Archive for October, 2019

How to Profit from Your Restaurant’s Happy Hour

Happy hour can bring in big crowds and be a huge sales draw. It can also poach customers from your more lucrative lunch or dinner service and cause major damage to your bottom line — if it’s not done carefully. 

The appeal of getting a discount on a drink and a snack while unwinding from the day is undeniable. In fact, 60.5% of average weekly sales for bars & restaurants come from happy hour, according to a Nielsen study. 

Here are some tips you can use to keep your happy hour profitable, instead of putting you in the poor house.

Legal landmines

Before jumping into your happy hour plans, remember that providing drink specials for an hour or two per day is not legal everywhere. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Alaska, Maine, Indiana, Utah, Vermont, and Hawaii all ban what we think of as “happy hour” — discounted drinks for a short time per day. (Some of these states may allow drink specials for a full day, which could allow you to do an all-day happy hour.)

Even in states where drink discounts are legal, some still have specific rules. For example, Delaware requires that drink prices always be at least 6% higher than the cost of making the drink. And in Rhode Island, drink specials can’t go into effect until 6:00 pm on weekdays and are banned entirely on weekends. Plus, advertising those drink specials is banned by Rhode Island state law.

So make sure you’ve gone over your state and county rules for happy hours carefully before you get started. Once you’ve clarified the law, you can start working on increasing those profits. 

Timing is everything

If you’re going to make the most of your happy hour, it’s crucial to get the timing right. 

First, consider how long your happy hour (or hours) will last. If it’s too short, it may not seem worth it to customers to make the trek. If it’s too long, it can eat into your dinner business. 

Two hours seems to be a sweet spot. That’s plenty of time for people to get together and take advantage of food and drink discounts. Plus, if you keep it short, guests may get their first drink at a discount, but the second at full price. That’s more profit for you.

As for when you schedule happy hour, there are no hard and fast rules. The traditional 5:00pm to 7:00pm on weekdays may or may not be the best time for your restaurant. Consider when you start to fill up. If you’re located in a financial district where people don’t start to trickle out of the office until 7:00 pm, an early happy hour may not be the best fit for you. 

On the other hand, if you’re already getting a decent after-work crowd, adding an early happy hour may help to build your business during that quiet 4:00 – 6:00 pm block. 

If you’re open late, you may want to consider a “reverse” happy hour. This is when you offer late-night food and drink deals, instead of late afternoon. If you have reverse happy hour form 11:00 pm to 1:00 am, you may attract service staff from the nearby restaurants as they close down for the night. 

It could also be a good idea to offer something special on Wednesdays. Wednesday happy hour traffic is almost 24% higher than other weekdays. So an attractive deal could help you to make the most of the hump day boost.

Budget booze

Discounting your drinks only works if you’re increasing the volume of your customers. If your drinks are half price, you’ll need twice the customers to bring in the same amount of revenue. So keep that in mind when you’re planning your drink deals. 

Have a clear idea of how many more people you’ll need to attract in order to increase your sales. If your restaurant’s capacity is 200, a pricing strategy that requires 250 customers during happy hour isn’t going to work.

One way to offset some of the cost can be to offer combos. If you can pair an average-cost drink with a high-profit food item and discount them both, you’ll still be making a tidy profit.

For example, maybe you normally charge $9 for a glass of wine and $10 for a small cheese plate. The wine’s cost is 35% of the glass price, and the app is a high-profit item with a 50% food cost.

Offer the glass of wine and the appetizer as a combo at $15 instead of $19. The cost of the two items is only $8.15, meaning you’re still see a good margin. The combo will encourage people who may not otherwise have ordered an appetizer to get one, increasing your sales. 

Try to offer something unique during your happy hour, like a wine or champagne flight. If your restaurant specializes in a niche spirit like Japanese whiskey, you could offer a flight of that as well. 

Another way to increase profitability on your drinks is to offer discounts on kegged beer, wine, and champagne. And for cocktails, you can pre-batch them and hold them in kegs or carafes as well.

The benefits of pushing kegged and pre-batched cocktails are numerous. First of all, kegged wine leads to less waste, as it lasts much longer than an open bottle. Second, pouring a drink out of a keg is significantly faster than finding the right bottle, popping the cork, and pouring it. 

And of course, pre-made cocktails simply require ice, drink, and garnish. You’ll want to avoid fresh juices, as they’ll settle at the bottom of the keg. But they could be added last minute, right before serving. Keep batched cocktails simple, with only a few ingredients. 

If you’re able to streamline your drinks enough, you may be able to run the happy hour shift with less staff. This will allow you to save money on labor and increase those profits.

Finally, make sure to offer some deals on non-alcoholic options, too. Some restaurants actually offer free soft drinks to designated drivers during happy hour. Or if you have a mocktail menu, offer a discount on these drinks as well to encourage mixed groups of drinkers and non-drinkers to come by.

Give ‘em a snack

You drink specials are only half of the happy hour equation. You’ll want to offer some food options as well. 

Instead of just pulling a few high-profit items off the regular menu and offering them at a discount, get creative with the way you present your happy hour. 

If you have a best-selling entree, is there a way to incorporate it into your happy hour menu — possibly in an appetizer portion instead? High-end restaurants can benefit from this method, allowing cost-conscious diners to experience their restaurant at a price point they can afford. By reducing the size and price of an entree, you open the door to happy hour customers that you may not otherwise be able to attract. 

Keep food snackable and shareable. You want options that aren’t easily substituted for a full meal. Otherwise, you could poach your own dinner business and turn it into happy hour business instead.

Promote, promote, promote!

Make sure you’re getting the word out about your happy hour (keeping state law in mind, of course). Talk about your discounts regularly on social media. And reach out to influencers, bloggers, or local food publications to try to get included in their roundups of best local happy hours.

Also, make sure that you check the “happy hour” box in any listing sites, like Yelp, Google My Business, and Four Square. Diners can filter restaurants out by checking the “happy hour” box when they do a search. If you don’t include it in your features list, your restaurant will be omitted from customer search results.

On your own website, make your happy hour deals easy to find. Including a dedicated happy hour page or menu will let searchers easily discover the details so they can make a decision.

And don’t forget to promote happy hour to your current customers in the restaurant as well. You could put up flyers, do chalkboard art, or add a note to guest checks with info about your great deals. Train your staff to ask guests if they’ve been to your happy hour. If they haven’t, servers can tell the guests about your specials to encourage them to give it a try.

Remember, your decreased prices mean you need more bodies to come through the door. So spend some time focusing on your happy hour deals in your marketing strategy.

Conclusion

There is more to a profitable happy hour than offering $2 PBR’s and hoping the customers follow. You need to be true to your restaurant’s personality when planning your happy hour, while also taking a close look at your cost of goods and sales potential.

To get some ideas, talk to your servers and bartenders. Are there any requests or comments that they hear from guests? If customers often say they would love to try a sampling of your aged rums, that may be a great idea for a flight — and it’s unusual enough that it could attract some happy hour business.

And once you’ve settled on your happy hour menu, keep an eye on those numbers. If sales aren’t improving, you may need to increase your marketing efforts. Or, you may need to go back to the drawing board on your menu and pricing. 

Cheers!

Peekaboo Promotions: What They Are and How to Pull One Off in Your Restaurant

When you start to look for promotion ideas for your restaurant, it can sometimes seem that you’ll need a marketing degree to pull them off. Re-targeting, segmenting audiences, and tracking pixels are the stuff of advertising firms, not independent restaurants! 

While there is certainly value in those more technical methods, there are still some good old-fashioned analog techniques that you can use to increase your sales and get more return business. 

One of those methods is the Peekaboo Promotion, aka the “No Peeking” or “Red Envelope” promotion. We’re going to break down what it is, and how you can use it to get big results for a small investment. 

What Is It?

The Peekaboo Promotion is a method of marketing to your existing customers, turning them into repeat customers. 

Here’s how it works. When your customers finish their meal, their server will hand them a sealed envelope. Inside, there will be a gift certificate or coupon for their next visit. But the coupon comes with a couple of conditions. 

  • The envelope must stay sealed until the customers complete their next meal. And it must be opened by their server. The customer can’t open the envelope at home and then bring it to the restaurant.
  • The envelope must be opened within a certain month. The idea is to bring customers back during a slow time. So it has to be opened and used during the time that you specify.
  • The envelope will only be opened at the end of the customer’s meal. So they can’t order their meal based on their coupon. They have to order without knowing what they’re going to win.

Why Does it Work?

So many promotions are aimed at finding new customers. But getting a new customer costs 5x as much as retaining an existing one. Plus, your chances of selling to an existing customer are high, at 60-70%. Compare that to only 5-20% for new customers.

So focusing on your existing customers is not only less expensive, but it’s also more effective. 

As for this specific promotion, it’s fun! There’s a small prize inside every envelope, meaning everyone is a winner. The curiosity of what is in their envelope will draw customers back to your restaurant at a time when they may have stayed home instead. One restaurant reported an increase in sales of $25,000 from this method — a 22% increase from their previous year. 

How Does it Work?

The first thing you’ll need to decide is when to run your promotion. A logical choice would be to hand out envelopes during the busy holiday season for redemption in January. But that may not make the most sense for your restaurant. For example, if you’re located in a ski town, it would make more sense to hand out your envelopes at the end of the ski season for use in the summer. The tourists won’t be in town, but the locals will, helping you to boost your sales during your quietest month.

Next, you’ll need to figure out how many prizes and envelopes to put together. Look at the number of tables or checks you had in your giveaway month last year. If your sales are on track to be the same, you could just use that number. But if you’re experiencing growth of say, 10%, add an extra 10 to 15% more envelopes to account for the increased business.

The next step is to decide on your prizes. Include a wide variety. Your smallest (most affordable) prizes, like a free soft drink or side of fries, will be in the largest number of envelopes. Then you can add some coupons for free appetizers or desserts, a few free entrees, and maybe some merchandise. Finally, you’ll add a gift certificate or coupon for just one or two of your grand prize. This could be 100% off their bill or tickets to a local sporting event or food festival. Make sure your grand prize is something really attractive to provide an incentive for guests to come back during your slow time. 

When figuring out your prize distribution, you’ll need to think about what the cost would be if 100% of the people who receive an envelope come back to use their coupon. Keep in mind that all of these people will be generating sales for your restaurant. But you’ll want to know what the total cost of the promotion could be, from the cost of creating your coupons to the costs of the prizes. 

The Coupons and Envelopes 

When designing your physical coupons and envelopes, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

First, these don’t have to be fancy. There are companies that can print your envelopes and certificates for you, but you could also do it yourself with a local printer. 

First, make sure your envelope isn’t see-through. The whole point is that customers have to come back in and have a meal in order to find out what they won. If they can hold the envelope up to a light and read their coupon, it defeats the purpose.  You can prevent this by either using a colorful envelope or by folding the coupon inside to make sure it can’t be read. 

You’ll also need to make sure your envelope is branded to your restaurant. If you use a plain white envelope, customers could open it, check the coupon, and then re-stuff it into another white envelope. You don’t want the customer to know they’re getting a free meal before their meal, or they could order everything on the menu and you’d be on the hook for the bill!

It’s also a good idea to print the instructions on the outside of the envelope. This will help prevent the customer from opening it on accident, or forgetting when the promotion is taking place. Add a simple note reminding customers NOT to open the envelope, but to bring it back with them to the restaurant during the appropriate month. 

If you decide to print out your coupons and envelopes yourself, you can enlist the help of host and service staff to stuff them during their downtime. 

And train your staff to explain the promotion before handing over the envelope. If the customer tears into it before they understand how it works, they’ll void their coupon!

Tracking Your Success

During your promotion, you’ll want to track the outcome. If you don’t monitor the cost of your coupon redemptions along with sales accompanying an envelope, you won’t know if your promotion was a success or not.

Depending on your POS system, you may be able to set up a system allowing servers to flag checks where an envelope was present. Another simple way to keep track is to train your staff to print out a copy of each customer’s check and staple it to their coupon upon redemption. At the end of the night, they can hand it in when they do their checkout. This will let you track coupon redemptions, as well as the sales associated with those envelopes. 

At the end of the promotion, first figure out your total expenses by adding up the following: 

  • Cost of printing envelopes and coupons
  • Any labor costs involved in putting them together
  • Costs of all redeemed coupons including free drinks, appetizers, meals, and any external gifts that were purchased to include in the envelopes

Then subtract those total expenses from the total of all sales that accompanied an envelope. Now you’ll know the total net sales that were brought in by the promotion. 

Compare that to your sales from the same month in the previous year to get an idea of your success!

Conclusion

Marketers are always talking about “gamifying” the customer experience, and this is an easy way to do just that. The Peekaboo Promotion is one of simplest, most affordable ways you can boost your sales in a slow month. And yet, not many restaurants do this promotion. 

With such a low upfront cost, this is a great way to improve what is usually your slowest sales month. If it’s a success, you could bring it back year after year, or even run it twice per year. No marketing degree required!

Are Your Bar Stool Swivels on Backwards?

Congratulations on your swivel bar stool purchase from East Coast Chair and Barstool! Your guests will love the comfort and convenience of these beautiful swivel stools. Now for the next step – assembly! Oftentimes, this stage can be intimidating, but East Coast Chair and Barstool provides you with simple, easy-to-follow video instructions that can be found here.

If you purchased a metal frame swivel bar stool or a flex back bucket bar stool (such as the 925 or 825), your swivel will be flat and can be assembled without having to worry about it being backwards.

But if your swivel bucket bar stools are full back models, such as the 950, 625, or 525, you’ll be assembling a tilted swivel, which can be a bit more complicated. We’re here to help guide you through some of the common mistakes and offer solutions to ensure your bar stools are working to their full potential!

1. Does Your Swivel Feel Off-Balance?

If you sit in your full back bucket swivel bar stool and feel like your weight is leaning towards the left or right side, there’s a good chance your swivel is to blame! Be sure to check that the arrows on the top of your tilted swivel are pointing towards the front of the bar stool, where your customers’ knees would go.

Prior to assembly, it’s important to take note of this by laying the swivel on a table and looking at the side labeled “TOP”. You’ll see two arrows pointing to an edge with the label, “FRONT”, which tells you that end should face your bar or table (or where your customers’ knees go).

2. Are You Leaning Forward in Your Bar Stool?

If you feel that your bar stool is tilting you forward rather than allowing you to lean back and relax in the seat, the way you assembled your swivel is likely causing this discomfort!

It’s extremely common in the assembly process to put the raised edge of the swivel at the back of the bar stool, because it would make sense that your customers should be propped up in their seat, right? Actually, the lower end of the swivel allows your guests to lean back in their seats and feel a sturdy support.

Before you assemble the bar stool, it can be helpful to put the swivel on a flat surface with the “TOP” facing up and the arrows pointed to your right or left. Come down to eye level and examine the swivel.

You’ll see that the metal is slightly angled, make a note that the higher edge should face where your customers’ knees will be, and the lower edge should be at the back of the bar stool.

We hope that this helps in assembling your swivel bar stool or fixing the swivel if it feels incorrect. If you have any questions regarding your purchase from East Coast Chair and Barstool, our team would be more than happy to talk! Just call 1-800-986-5352 to speak to a member of our customer care team.

Protect Your Investment: Training Your Staff to Take Care of Your Restaurant Furniture

If you’ve been in the restaurant business for any length of time, you know how much wear and tear your furniture has to undergo. The constant rearranging, pulling out and scootching in of chairs, and daily spills can turn your shiny new furniture into dingy old furniture in a flash.

You can’t run around all day cleaning up messes and babying your equipment. So you have to empower your staff to be the protectors of your furniture.

Provide the right tools

If you want your staff to take care of your furniture, they need the right tools.

You know the enemy of wood furniture is moisture. So to help keep it at bay, invest in coasters. Make sure that you keep a steady supply so you’ll never run out. 

Train your staff to drop coasters at every table before drinks are even ordered as part of their standard greeting. Servers and bartenders should introduce themselves and welcome guests to the restaurant, all while setting the table or bar with coasters for the drinks to come. That way they won’t be trying to place coasters with one hand while holding a tray of drinks in the other.

Next, make sure servers are able to wipe up any spills right away by including a small towel as part of their daily uniform. It will increase your linen budget slightly to have enough towels for every server to keep one on them at all times. But by wiping up spills immediately without having to hunt for a towel, your staff will help to increase your tables’ longevity.

You also want to protect your tabletops from excess heat. If you have any dishes that are served in cast iron or stainless vessels, they can get very hot, and can scorch your table. Make sure that any metal vessels that may go straight from the oven to the table are served on a wooden plank or a small plate to protect the finish.

Finally, you’ll want to provide the right cleaners for your furniture. The common “bar towels” often leave a lot of lint behind. Instead, use microfiber cloths that will pick up dust and crumbs, leaving a clean finish. For a cleaning solution, make sure to use something gentle. If it needs to be diluted, list the ratios on a laminated sheet at the host stand or in the server station where staff can always find it.

Include maintenance in closing sidework

Taking care of their section should always be a part of a server’s closing sidework. Don’t leave the cleaning of tables and chairs for the opening team the next day, as that will leave sticky messes time to damage your furniture finishes.

Servers should give the tables and chairs a thorough wipe down with a diluted soap and water mixture, followed by another wipe with a clean damp cloth. Make sure to avoid any oil-based cleaners for vinyl booths or seats, as it can harden the vinyl. And for lacquered or varnished wood furniture, train staff to wring out their cloth well before using. It should be damp, not sopping! Avoid cleaners with alcohol, silicone, or ammonia, as they can damage the lacquer. 

Servers should also check under the tables for gum or anything sticky. It’s gross, but removing gum on a daily basis will prevent it from hardening and sticking to the bottom of the table even worse. 

They should also “crumb” any booths in their section, cleaning out the crack between the seat and the booth back. This is where crumbs and grime can collect unseen. If the space between the seat and back is too tight to fit a hand, servers can wrap the handle of a butter knife in a towel, and slide that into the crack. Run the butter knife all the way across the booth to draw any crumbs out.

Bartenders should also wipe down their bar stools, and the host stand should wipe their host station. 

After sidework is complete, it should always be checked by a manager or lead server. Make sure the person doing the checkout has a flashlight. Even with the lights turned all the way up, it can be very difficult to see under a table. A flashlight will make it easy to see any spots the server may have missed. 

Have a damage log

Communication is always one of the challenges of a restaurant. Unlike an office where employees are generally working the same hours, restaurants have staff working across different shifts and different days, with very little written communication. 

So when something is damaged, how will you know?

Create a Standard Operating Procedure to handle maintenance and repair requests. Exactly what this will look like will depend on your restaurant. But here are a few options:

  • Have a physical logbook somewhere in the restaurant where anyone, from the dishwasher to the head bartender, can write down items that are damaged or need replacing. By empowering every member of staff to add to the list, it will be less likely that items will be forgotten in a game of telephone.
  • Assign one member of staff to be the “maintenance manager”. Ideally, this would be a handy person who could do some minor repairs themselves and outsource the rest. The great thing about this method is that it keeps the minor issues off your plate. But make sure this person has a budget for both their time and for purchases, to keep costs from spiraling out of control. 
  • Ask staff to bring any repair requests to the MOD, who can then inform the GM or owner. The risk with this method is that by adding steps to the process, you increase the likelihood that someone will forget to pass on the message.

You may come up with something different. But whatever you choose, make sure that everyone in the restaurant knows the procedure. 

Your servers who clean their sections will be the first to notice a wobbly table or damaged chair. So they need to know exactly what to do to get it fixed. You don’t want to be in a situation where every server is aware of a problem, but no one has informed management.

Have a deep clean/repair day

On occasion, you may notice that the daily cleanings could stand to be supplemented by a deeper scrub. At times like these, it could make sense to have a full restaurant deep clean. This is a great opportunity to get the whole place spic and span. 

The bartenders can pull everything out of the bar and make sure every shelf and wall is sparkling. The servers can do a thorough clean of furniture, restaurant walls, windows, and other surfaces. And the kitchen staff can work on the baked-on grease and grime that inevitably collects in commercial kitchens. 

This is also a great time to do minor repairs. For example, wood chair legs are vulnerable to being kicked and damaged, creating gouges in the finish. Those gouges can be filled with wood filler and stained with a stain pen to match the surrounding area. This is a great fix for chair legs since they won’t be examined up close. 

You will probably have to close the restaurant for a day to do this, and you’ll have to pay your staff an hourly wage. But if it’s only once or twice per year, it could be worth the extra expense.

Conclusion

Your restaurant furniture was a big financial investment, so take steps to protect it! By adding the care of restaurant furniture into servers’ daily sidework, it will become a quick and routine part of their shift. 

And a clean, attractive environment does more than just impress customers. It also fosters a sense of pride in your staff, helping with employee happiness and retention. Now that’s a win-win.