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!

Engaging “Generation Y” to Grow Your Restaurant

Generation Y (aka millennials) are expected to outnumber baby boomers sometime this year making them the largest generation in the country. At 73 million strong, it’s vital to know how to reach these 22- to 37-year-olds.

Marketing to millennials should look more like engaging with your friends than traditional advertising. They want entertaining content, fun experiences, and authentic interactions with real people. They’re suspicious of marketing, and if it feels too much like a sales pitch, they won’t respond to it. But there are still ways to reach them! Read on for some helpful tips.

Get Social

You know that “kids these days” are always on their smartphones. But did you know that 95% of Generation Y follows at least one brand on social media? Every additional follower on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is one more person that you can market to directly — without spending a dime.

Luckily for the restaurant industry, food-related content is incredibly popular across social media. High-quality photo and video content are what the people want! So don’t let them down. A DSLR camera is a great tool, but a newer smartphone camera can still do the trick. It never hurts to have some photo editing skills as well to make the colors really pop.

While food content is a great start, also think beyond the plate. Go behind-the-scenes and introduce your followers to the people behind the product. Take a short video of the chef talking about some of his favorite ingredients, or making one of his signature dishes. Introduce your fans to one of your bartenders. Post a photo from your last staff party. Remember, you’re treating your followers like friends. They need to know who you are if they’re going to feel personally connected to your brand.

Engage!

Keep in mind that social media is a platform for two-way communication. It’s not enough to just post a killer video and trust that the rest will happen on its own. Make sure to engage with the people who are reacting to your content. Respond to comments, thank new followers, and follow them back. And when they post their own photos from their time at your establishment, make sure to like and comment.

And don’t forget to check out the analytics! All social media platforms have reports that business pages can access. You’ll be able to learn about activity on your feed, how each post is performing, and gain insight into your audience — who they are, and when they are active on social media. This information will help you determine what content is getting results so you can tailor your posts accordingly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work — it can be. But there are ways to make it easier. Apps like Buffer and Hootsuite let you schedule all of your social media content — pictures, copy, and hashtags — in advance. Then, the software will post to your social accounts for you based on the schedule you set.

You can plan out the whole week’s worth of content at once. Using scheduling software will ensure that social media isn’t forgotten in the hustle and bustle of running your restaurant. Just make sure that you’re checking in and interacting with your followers daily.

Remember — consistency is key. It takes time to build an online community, but with perseverance, you’ll see those follow numbers start to increase.

#experiences

More good news for the restaurant industry — millennials prefer experiences to goods. In fact, all generations are shifting away from buying “stuff” and towards participation in events.

Restaurants already have a leg up, since dining out is an easily accessible experience for many. But let’s go beyond anniversary dinners and birthday parties, shall we? How can you bring the capital e “Experience” to your restaurant and customers?

Bring in a guest chef for a special tasting. Host a beer dinner with a local brewery. Teach a cooking class, culminating in a tasty meal and a glass of wine. Have a seasonal farm-to-table dinner. The key is for it to be unique and one-time-only. You want to throw an event that will create valuable memories — and great pictures for the participants’ social media feeds.

When the time comes to get the word out about your event, your social channels will be invaluable. Make sure to do regular posts leading up to the big day.

But millennials love recommendations from people they trust. So try going a step further by enlisting the help of local micro-influencers — bloggers and social media personalities with follows from 10,000 up to 100,000 people. Find out who your local food bloggers and event curators are, and see if they’d be willing to do a post about your event.

There may be a cost associated with their post, or you may be able to exchange the post for free tickets to the event. But since these influencers have devoted fans who want to know what’s going on around town, it may be worth the cost to get their shout out.

Finally, try to get outside the four walls of your restaurant. Food festivals are an incredibly popular experience with Generation Y. They attract a huge amount of social media engagement, and they get your name and your food in front of people who may be outside your normal demographic. They can be challenging logistically, but the payoff for a successful festival can be well worth it.

Miserly Millennials

Many millennials graduated from college just as the economy was taking a huge downturn. Their careers were stalled right out of the gate, and they’re still feeling the effects over 10 years later. Add student loan debt to the tune of $1.3 trillion, and it’s no wonder Gen Y is incredibly cost-conscious.

This doesn’t mean that you have to destroy your cost of goods in order to keep prices low enough to attract these penny pinchers. But consider offerings that could attract a group that may normally not be able to afford your restaurant.

For example, a very high-end sushi restaurant offers happy hour from 5:00 to 6:30 pm on weekdays. They provide smaller portions of select menu items at reduced prices; $18 appetizers are served as small plates on the happy hour menu for only $9. This deal is routinely included in lists of the best happy hours in town.

These reduced prices give the less affluent an opportunity to try high-end food at a price they can afford while keeping the restaurant’s cost of goods under control. And remember, today’s entry-level marketing assistant is tomorrow’s VP of Marketing — with a lot more disposable income.

Cooking for a Cause

Many millennials participate in causes and social activism regularly. They sign petitions, make donations, and vote with their dollars by boycotting brands that they feel have transgressed. They want to do good.

Give them the opportunity to give back while having fun. Charity events build brand goodwill while also supporting a cause.

Get customers involved by:

  • Hosting a toy or food drive. Offer a small discount off their meal as thanks for their donation.
  • Donating a percentage of sales to a cause that’s important to you.
  • Raffling off a gift basket, prize, or a dinner for two to your restaurant. Sell tickets to customers, and donate the proceeds to a charity.

Local charities are a good choice, as they may be more transparent than huge national organizations. Plus, many people like the idea of keeping their donations in their own communities. Before selecting a charity, do some research on CharityWatch.org to verify their credentials. You can also see how much of their money goes to aid vs. administration.

Let Them Participate

Millennials like to be active participants with the brands they support. They expect companies to engage with them, ask their opinions, and respond to their feedback. So actively encourage that interaction, and watch engagement increase.

Debating between two new menu items? Let your customers vote on it. Adding a cocktail to the menu? Host a naming contest on social media, and give a prize to the winner. Ask people to share the photos they’ve taken at your restaurant, and send a gift card to whoever took your favorite.

Encouraging your followers to get involved will show that you value your customer’s input and build a deeper connection between them and your brand.

They’re Not Getting Any Younger…

With the oldest millennials approaching their late-30s, many of them are now parents. In fact, 40% of millennials have kids. So being kid-friendly can be an important selling point when they’re considering where to go out to eat. Clean high chairs, plastic cups with straws, and a kids menu will all help parents feel comfortable bringing the kiddos.

Include pictures of families and kids on your social media (with the parent’s permission, of course!) to show your followers that their little ones are not only allowed but welcome.

And with both parents sharing childcare duties more evenly than ever before, make sure there is a changing station in every restroom!
At the end of the day, marketing to Generation Y is really about building relationships. Share what excites you, ask them what they think, and give a little back. If you treat your Generation Y customers as pals instead of prospects, you’ll be well on your way to securing a group of loyal and profitable patrons.

Engaging Gen Y

What Other Restaurants Can Learn from “Build Your Own Meal” Concepts

There is no restaurant concept more creative than being one step away from literally putting customers behind a prep table or oven. We’re talking about “build your own meal” restaurant concepts and why they flourish. Popular examples of restaurants that use this concept include Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Burgatory. These restaurants put the creativity in customers hands as they select the ingredients and toppings that are going into their entrée, with endless possibilities.

See how this concept works and how you can shake up your restaurant’s processes with these tips!

Smooth Ordering

Long gone are the days of ‘can you put the tomatoes on the side?’ and ‘can I substitute kale for lettuce?’ Commonly these restaurants use an assembly line system where the meal and customer move down the line or, at sit-down establishments, customers fill out a check list of everything they want on their entrée.

This should also reduce the margin for error with a server taking down an order. It’s easier for something to be misheard and written down incorrectly at a bustling restaurant versus a customer putting a tick mark next to jalapenos.

The typical ordering process for these restaurants allows customers to order comfortably and not have to communicate their likes and dislikes to a waiter- picky eaters unite! It can also save the staff time going through each option with the customer.

What you can do in your restaurant: Streamline the order process for customers by breaking it down, step by step. Start with the base meal and work your way up with options. For example, start with the different kinds of meat they can choose for their burger. Then, work to buns, cheese, toppings, and sauces to finish their order.

Transparency

With “build your own meal” concepts, restaurants are forced to be upfront and honest about their ingredients. It’s likely you’ve been to eateries where you can see their ingredients behind a sneeze guard and they aren’t really looking as “fresh” as they say (here’s looking at you, Subway).

When customers are building their meals down the line or even from a notepad, they want to see basic options, as well as some places they can get a little creative. These ingredients need to look and sound (if written) appetizing to invite customers to have a little fun with their food.

Restaurants offering truly fresh ingredients can make customers can feel good about what they’re choosing to put into their bodies. So, try partnering with local farms to get fresh produce or meat. This is not only a mutually beneficial partnership but will promote local sustainability and sourced foods as well.

What you can do in your restaurant: Label, label, label! If ingredients are gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, or soy-based, let customers know. The more detailed you can be with your ingredients, the better.

Experience

The modern restaurant is moving toward these customized experiences, like “build your own meal”, because it integrates the customers into the theatrics. Dinner becomes much more like a production than just ordering tacos a specific way, it’s a curated food adventure. 

With the possibilities of “build your own meal” concepts, customers could come ten times to your pizza place but have a different experience every single time based on their choices.

There is just a little ego-building that goes into “build your own meal” concepts. Customers are being asked to take the reins, so it’s up to them what they create. If they create something they love or is just not quite what they were hoping, there’s a possibility they’ll be back to tweak it so it’s perfection.

Try also featuring a combination of the month. This could spark a customer’s creativity while also enticing people to stop by!

What you can do in your restaurant: When you make your list of ingredient choices, make sure to not offer flavors that will ruin a customer’s meal. For example, if a customer has decided to float their burger in a marmalade and they’re not satisfied with their meal, technically, that was their choice, but you don’t want that to impact their possibility of a return visit.

The trend of putting the customer in control works seamlessly with “build your own meal” concepts because of their smooth ordering process, transparency, and experience value. Putting the customer in charge really changes the whole dynamic of a restaurant’s traditional business model.  

Would you ever try adding “build your own meal” aspects to your menu offerings? Let us know in the comments below.

Food Photography Tips for Restaurants

How many times have you heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words? In today’s world of constant social media interaction, that saying is truer than ever. Photos, especially photos of food, have become a major part of all social media interactions, especially on Instagram.  Now it isn’t like you can just slap up any old photo on your profile and call it a day. The higher quality and more interesting the photos, the more likely they are to be shared and bring customers in your door. But food photography can be challenging, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to have your business putting its best foot forward.

Ideal Lighting

Lighting is probably one of the most important aspects of taking a good photo. If you are able, try to use natural light with indirect sun. This will have your food looking its best, showing off its natural colors, and avoiding harsh shadows. Placing food on a table next to the window is a great way to achieve natural but indirect light. Food placed under fluorescent lighting tends to change tones and colors.

While natural light is best for photos, it isn’t always realistic in restaurants where ambiance and mood lighting are important, and probably dimmer than what you would like. If your restaurant doesn’t have access to natural lighting, you can purchase some equipment to get you closer to achieving great lighting. The Wescott 43” Apollo Orb is a relatively inexpensive option that will get the job done.

Tip: Many commercial table tops will be reflective. Watch out for this when lighting your photos, you don’t want it to distract from the food.

The Perfect Angles

Different angles capture the distinctive components of varying types of food. For example, a plate of grilled chicken and sides might be best shot from above. This will showcase the entire plate and let customers know exactly what they are getting. Items that stack, like burgers and pancakes, are better shot at a 45-degree angle. This showcases the layers and all the goodness in-between. Having photos that vary the angle also help to create variety and interest when you post them to your social accounts or use them in your menu.

Tip: Try to work in triangles. Items shot in groups of three, creating triangles helps to create structure and simplicity.

Staging Your Food

Staging your photos allows you to put your very best foot forward. That being said, staging should complement your food rather than overwhelm it. There are a few things that you can do to present your food in the best possible way. First thing is to make sure that the area you are taking the photo in is clean. Nothing is worse than having great looking food surrounded by crumbs or other unsightly things. It can really ruin the vibe of the photo and distract from the focal point.

The second thing is to switch up your props and backgrounds. Keeping it the same all the time is going to make your photos become boring after a while. If you find yourself in a slump, you can go to the nearest hardware store for some materials with different textures that you can place your plates on.

Finally, take a moment to make sure your food is looking its best is crucial. Adding a little garnish can go a long way. If you find your food looking a little lackluster, you can brush a bit of oil or water to make things look fresh. Don’t overdo it though.

Tip: For inspiration on staging, find a few Instagram accounts that you love and try to emulate their work.

Benefits of Action Shots

Actions shots are a great way to diversify photos and add some interest. A creative way to get these is with a few behind the scenes photos. Your chef stirring up a batch of soup or about to slice some ingredients for your signature dish is an engaging way to let your customers see what goes on in the back and get them craving your food.

Tip: Action shots are also great for adding a human element. It helps to tell your story so don’t be afraid to include hands in some of your food photos.

Editing

The amount of editing you do is entirely up to you. If you choose to edit your photos, there are plenty of free or low-cost editing apps that you can utilize. Depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos and editing, you might want to consider installing Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. These programs have long been recognized as the top editing software.

Tip: Try not to over edit your photos. To much editing will look fake and potentially tacky.

Branding

Just like everything else in your restaurant, your photos should work within your overall brand design. If your restaurant is a bright breakfast spot it wouldn’t make sense for all of your photos to be dark and dreary. However if you are a romantic little bistro with mood lighting, darker photos might feel just right. Before posting any photo be sure to ask yourself if it is sending the message that you want.

Terms & Concepts

If you are an inexperienced photographer or a pro who needs a refresher here are some photography terms and concepts to keep in mind when shooting. While following some of these concepts might elevate your photos, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to them. Use your own creativity and see what you come up with!

Depth of Field: The distance between the nearest and furthest objects where objects appear acceptably sharp in an image and in focus. By adjusting your depth of field, you can really make it clear to the viewer what you want to be the focal point of the picture.

Rule of Thirds: A guideline that proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts and that compositional elements should be placed along the lines for a more balanced photo.

Bokeh: The out of focus blurred parts in a background.

Exposure: How light or dark an image is.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens. The larger the opening the more light allowed into the lens.

Photos are a universal language that doesn’t need a translator. They are an effective way to communicate to customers and entice them to come to your restaurant. Food photography might seem intimidating, but by ensuring that you have good lighting, interesting content, and some creative thinking, you’ll be well on your way to showcasing your food and your restaurant in the best way possible.

Do you have any food photography tips for us? Let us know in the comments!

Don’t Drop the Ball on Your Restaurant’s New Year’s Eve Events

Confetti

The beginning of a new year is an exciting time! People use it as a clean slate and a way to start over. Have your customers end their year and turn over a new leaf in your restaurant with New Year’s Eve promotions that will let them have the time of their life (*cues up Dirty Dancing theme*).

Choose Your Atmosphere

When you think of New Year’s Eve, sounds of champagne bottles popping and glasses clinking may come to your mind in a more adult setting. But the beauty of a New Year’s Eve party is that it can be geared toward whatever audience you want! While it obviously works well in bars, there are other establishments that can still get in on the holiday festivities. Are most of your customers families with younger children? Have a New Year’s Eve early dinner with kids’ activities and crafts so everyone can be entertained. Even breakfast joints can get in on the celebration by hosting a New Year’s Day brunch and catch the crowd the morning after, bonus points if you have a build your own Bloody Mary bar.

Choose Your Theme

New Year's Eve Hat and Champagne

A theme is very important for creating hype and interest. It’s easy for customers to justify popping a bottle of champagne and watching the ball drop from the comfort of their homes, but a good theme can entice them to see the value in the experience (around 9% of Americans go out for New Year’s). Pick one that you think would be the most fun and memorable for your guests to enjoy. Some popular themes over the years include reality TV, roaring 20’s, beach, New Orleans, and 90’s throwback. Although a theme isn’t necessary (even just New Year’s Eve could be your theme!), it can really lend itself when you’re decorating your space and creating a memorable menu.

Choose Your Promotion Method

Tickets

The key to get people to show up? Make sure they know about it! With so many other holiday gatherings happening, all around a few weeks span, it’s important to promote your New Year’s Eve party around the beginning of December.

Try some of these methods to advertise your party and keep it marked on their social calendar.

  • Flyers in your restaurant, on community boards, and on customer receipts
  • Email blasts
  • Mentioned by staff
  • Menu inserts
  • Text alerts
  • Social media advertisement (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

If you’ve had prior New Year’s events, be sure to send out notices to past attendees that they are not going to want to miss this year!

After you have their attention, consider selling ticket packages to the event. This can help lay out what guests can expect from the event and people are more likely to follow through if they have already paid the money upfront to attend an event. For example, packages could include appetizers, dinner, drink tokens, or even a champagne toast. Having these preset packages can help you order food/drinks appropriately for your crowd and prevent overcapacity. You could even incentivize your staff with who can sell the most tickets for a prize to keep them engaged and customers informed!

Choose Your Entertainment

Live Music Performance

Music or some sort of entertainment is a must for your New Year’s Eve party! Having entertainment completely transforms the whole feel for the evening. Whether it’s a DJ, live band, magician, or any kind of performer, give your attendees some sort of show they can enjoy while they wait for midnight. You can factor this into the cost of a ticket to your event.

But don’t forget to make a countdown announcement or put the ball drop on a few minutes before midnight so guests can officially ring in the new year as it happens.

Choose Your Staff

Bartenders at Bar

It may seem obvious that since your doors are open, you’ll need to schedule your staff. Customer service needs to be at its highest since your restaurant has transitioned to more of an event center than its normal eatery operations.

Bartenders should pay careful attention to how much guests are being served, since overserving is a big issue with the holiday. In fact, DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Having the right staff members on hand to make sure guests have a good and safe experience is crucial to helping everyone have a great time.

Planning a New Year’s Eve party for your restaurant may seem overwhelming but it’s a great way to bring your customers (and maybe some new faces) in for the holiday. A successful New Year’s event, especially those that are ticketed, can be a lucrative start to what may be a slower month in business.

Does your restaurant host an event for New Year’s Eve? What do you found that has worked for your business in the past? Tell us below!

Ways To Make Your Restaurant More Instagram-Worthy

There is no denying that social media is a powerhouse. Every day new accounts are being created at a rate of one new social media user every 15 seconds. There are 3.03 billion active social media users, with the average number of social media accounts being 5.54. The average daily time spent on social is 116 minutes a day.

Instagram is right at the top with over 800 million monthly active users and over 95 million photos uploaded every day. That is a huge market and a fantastic tool that you can use to reach current and potential customers. Instagram can be a powerful promotional tool if used the right way. Yelp data shows that more users are looking up restaurants based upon how “Insta-worthy” they are. There are a few things that you can do to up your game, get those double taps, and use Instagram to fill your seats.

Beautiful Food

As a restaurant, your top priority is the food and the way that it tastes, but nothing says that food can’t be both delicious and photo worthy. Many restaurants are seeing success with creating a novelty food item that brings people in just for the photo opportunity. Bloggers compile lists of the most
Instagrammable food in each city. Readers then flock to these locations to get that next great picture. By offering an item that is a little over the top, you can bring in a lot of business. Hybrid foods such as the Cronut, are also very popular.

Don’t rework your entire menu just to make it Instagram worthy but consider creating a monthly special that is fun to photograph. It will get people in the door and it’s a great creative exercise for your staff.

Presentation of food is always important, but there are a few easy ways to up you game. Investing in some white plates is a great way to show off your food. It helps to accentuate the colors of the food and has a nice minimalistic feel, perfect for photographing.

Many of us can agree that greasy foods are delicious, though packaging with giant grease stains aren’t the most appetizing looking. To avoid grease ruining a Kodak moment, invest is some grease proof paper. It allows fried foods to look their best all the time.

Lighting

As any photographer will tell you, lighting is crucial to the perfect photo. Take a moment to evaluate the lighting in your restaurant to make sure it fits the image you want to create. Are you a dark and moody bar looking to reach college students or a light and airy bakery catering to families? If you are trying to go for a darker vibe, try having a few areas that are well lit enough for a good photo op. Neon signs can be great for this. They also create a signature piece to identify your location.  Photographers love spaces with good natural lighting, it makes taking the photo easier and allows your food to look its best.

Décor

You don’t need to completely redesign your restaurant just for Instagram opportunities. A few small adjustments can be made to encourage guests to take photos. A wall with a quote that embodies your brand, unique wallpapers, and furniture can all enhance the experience offered at your restaurant and promote customers sharing on their account.

You can help set the tone with what part of your décor you would like featured in photos. Do you have a fancy tiled floor? Or perhaps you spent hours obsessing over the perfect counters, feature them as a consistent backdrop on your feed and customers will follow suit.

Murals

Finding a mural and posting a picture with it is a new trend to hit Instagram. If your building has a beautiful blank wall indoor or out, consider pairing up with a local artist to create something unique to your area or restaurant. Brainstorm a signature hashtag and a location tag and you’ll have people traveling from all over to come take pictures. In some cases, people stand in lines down the block to take pictures with certain murals. If foot traffic is an issue this is a sure-fire way to increase passersby.

Hashtags

Share your Instagram account name everywhere. On your menu, on a chalkboard sidewalk sign, or on a receipt. Make sure that your customers know where to find you online. They can’t follow if they don’t know where you are posting. Create a custom hashtag that either references the name of your restaurant or a fun aspect of your brand. This will encourage any Insta-lovers to start snapping and tagging your restaurant.

Hosting a photo contest with a signature hashtag is a great way to improve engagement or get the momentum going on a new account. To encourage participation, offer customers a percentage off if they come in to eat and post.

Your Feed

Most importantly, don’t forget to include a human element to your posts. Gorgeous photos of your food are great and can create craveability ideal for generating new customers. That being said, a huge part of the industry is the people and their stories. Integrate photos of people enjoying themselves on your feed, it’ll inspire other to come and join the food party.

Just be yourself. Share photos of your customers enjoying the food or photos that illustrate the story of your business and what makes you unique. In a world of cultivated content people often crave realness.

Social media is a great marketing tool and Instagram is at the forefront of the social media game. Instagram is an excellent tool for meeting your customers where they are at. By making a few adjustments to your current design or marketing plan you can increase your customer base exponentially.

Have you seen results by using Instagram? Let us know in the comments below!

What to Consider Before Opening Your Restaurant for Breakfast

Bacon sizzling on a grill, crisping in its own grease. The smell of pancakes wafting through the air greets customers at the door. An orange light comes to life as the coffee signals its readiness. Breakfast is served.

These are just a small sampling of the sights, sounds, and smells that await you and your customers when you open for breakfast. But, deciding if you should open your restaurant is all about crunching the hard numbers, not just fantastical sensory feelings. Are you ready to add the “most important meal of the day” to your offerings? Here are some things to consider before you open your doors earlier than ever before. They could also make or break your breakfast business.

Do you have resources to advertise? This doesn’t always boil down to budget. Do you have the time to design promotional materials or to post on social media? It’s not enough to just fling your doors open at 7 am and expect a crowd; people need to be reminded numerous times to have something sink in. The old rule was that people needed to see or hear something about seven times to have it stick with them. Now, in the social media age, it will take more than seven exposures for your target audience to carry that message with them. Put inserts in your menu, promote it on your social media, or even hang posters in your restaurant. These can attract new customers while giving current customers the opportunity to try your breakfast out.

Can you price competitively? Breakfast is often touted as an inexpensive meal because the dishes rely on a lot of commoditized items. These dishes can give you a higher profit margins with their low cost. Which is great for your bottom line, but It’s important to remember guests won’t feel the same way. Somehow, it’s more painful to shell out twelve dollars for avocado toast than twelve dollars for a lunch sandwich. A popular trend right now is to have alcoholic cocktails, like Bloody Mary’s or mimosas, on your breakfast menu. This is a good way to offer something indulgent for the customer and profitable for you. It’s okay to make a profit off your breakfast items but you don’t want to scare off customers with sticker shock, they likely won’t return, damaging your profits for the future.

Will your location support the traffic you need? A good traffic flow is crucial to having a successful breakfast set, especially if you’re not used to opening your doors that early. Having breakfast hours during the weekdays can be successful if you are situated in an office district that has early morning traffic. On the contrary, you can snag church-goers and more casual breakfast eaters in other areas if you focus on weekend hours. It’s important to analyze the traffic ebbs and flows around your location to figure out if you justify the hours open. You might even find that you gain customers by being open at hours you weren’t before.

What time of day will you serve breakfast? The answer to this might be a little harder to come up with than what you would think. Are you willing to offer breakfast dishes all day or would you rather confine it to a time frame? Consider your menu (breakfast and lunch), the space you’ll need to store and prep ingredients, kitchen flow, and staffing.

How will this affect your staff? Knowing your workforce will be an essential factor when figuring out if your restaurant can offer breakfast. You may find that some would prefer to bank on a typically busier lunch or dinner rush to for tips. Others may find that an earlier shift could be better for their family’s schedules. Besides scheduling, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough staff in general and the resources to add more if necessary. Not factoring in your staffing situation could cause tension if not addressed properly and can boil over into a bad customer experience.

What kind of format will you offer breakfast? There are so many ways to provide breakfast options in your restaurant. Will you offer a buffet-style meal, items from a fixed menu, or take-out items? It’s all about the needs of your current and potential clientele in the area. Thinking back to location, if you’re in a bustling business area that has a lot of traffic in the morning, consider light take-out options like breakfast burritos that are easy to just grab and go. Buffets and breakfast cocktails are often best served on the weekends when people really take the time to enjoy their meal.

Breakfast works the best for restaurants when prices are fair, the restaurant is staffed appropriately, and has enough traffic is coming in to justify being open. Opening earlier can be a great way to compete against other businesses in the area and provide more time to make a profit.

Straws: Plastic and Pollution on Our Planet

Plastic Straws in Drinks

 

A little background…

2018 has not been kind to plastic straws. The restaurant and hospitality industries are being encouraged to change the way they use single-use plastic products like straws (“500 million straws are used and discarded every day in the U.S. alone”). In response, many corporations are coming up with alternatives and plans to change the way they use straws.

In 2015, a video was uploaded to YouTube named ‘Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril – “NO” TO PLASTIC STRAWS’ by Texas A&M Ph. D. candidate, Christine Figgener. This video has over 32 million views on the YouTube platform, not counting Facebook or other social media views. Although it wasn’t the first, this viral video put a face on the issue of single-use plastic items and raised awareness about the consequences that aren’t considered after a piece of plastic lands in a landfill, ocean, or beach.

Many restaurant owners are being faced with purchasing questions that they will need to answer. Single-use plastic has long been used in the restaurant and hospitality industries religiously for the past fifty years. It can seem difficult to find alternatives, but not impossible.

What’s the issue?

Plastic straws (used in homes, restaurants, etc.) are turning up in the ocean and harming wildlife while also adding themselves to heaping piles of garbage that can’t be recycled.

What are other companies doing about straws in their restaurant?

Food industry behemoths like Starbucks and McDonald’s were some of the first to make headlines in the fight to abolish straws. Starbucks is looking to ditch plastic straws for their strawless lid cup in all locations by 2020. McDonald’s is banning single-use plastic products in their U.K. and Ireland locations while also testing plastic straw alternatives in the U.S. Other players like Aramark, Hyatt Hotels, Fox Restaurant Concepts, Eataly, Shoney’s, the Four Seasons Hotel group, and even Ikea are just a few of the food/hospitality companies are in the process of or have promised to change their straw policies.

What do restaurant owners need to consider?

Consider where your restaurant is. Cities like Malibu and Seattle have already passed ordinances banning plastic straws, forcing restaurant owners to offer an alternative.

Don’t forget to look at your menu. Could you save money by reducing straw distribution? Could you serve your mixed drinks without cocktail straws? Are there alternatives you could use instead? Read on…

 

Plastic and Paper Straws

 

What can I do in my restaurant?

If you’re thinking about making the switch from plastic straws to an alternative, here are some options to consider. There are pro’s and con’s to each alternative so it’s important to choose what is right for your business model and menu.

Sippy-type cup (aka no straws)

Getting rid of straws all together in larger companies seems to be the way of larger corporations (like McDonald’s and Starbucks). While this may seem like a grand and great gesture, it’s also a major point of contention for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities rely on straws to avoid aspirating liquid into their lungs. Another issue with the strawless lid is the additional plastic that goes into their production. Although no straw is needed in this redesigned lid, the new recyclable lids actually have 0.32 or 0.56 more grams of plastic product than the current lid and straw combo. While this lid is recyclable, it’s still likely to end up in a landfill or in the ocean.

Paper straws

The biggest complaint? The straws get soggy and collapse after a couple sips. The key to finding a good paper straw is to have one made with higher quality materials. Straws from companies like Indiana-based Aardvark focus on materials like special paper with a cleaner carbon footprint and a food-grade safe adhesive to maintain a quality straw. Paper straws are pricier but reduce the plastic consumption. This will hopefully be a better alternative in the future as the technology becomes more widespread.

Metal straws

Not a bad solution, in fact it may be a great one for dining-in situations as they are a little expensive. By using metal, this alternative basically becomes part of your silverware set. If you plan on using this type of straw, opt for those with a bend in them, an important characteristic for customers with mobility issues. The drawback? You may want to also invest in another alternative such as compostable or paper straws for your take-out orders.

Pasta straws

They may be firmer than paper straws and less bendy than plastic straws, but pasta straws don’t have all the answers. These can get soggy and don’t work for customers who have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.

Compostable straws

These straws have a very similar consistency to plastic straws but are compostable, meaning if they reach a landfill, they will break down. It’s important to note that these straws can be 70% more expensive traditional plastic ones, causing business owners to cringe at this alternative.

Available upon request

For independent restaurants where the decision-making lies with you or your general manager, having straws be available on request can lessen the straws given out. Most people use straws because they are handed one, making them just another step in the dining process. If customers have the need or desire to have a straw, having them available only upon request will cut down on those who just use a straw for convenience. And in the same move, you are still providing an option for those who have mobility issues. Having straws available upon request could also help you save money since you’ll be cutting back on how many you order by not giving them out as freely.

Is your restaurant making moves to sustainably serve your customers? If you are in a straw-banned area, how has it affected your business? Tell us below.

For more information on anti-single-use plastic campaigns, please visit The Last Plastic Straw for more details on what your restaurant can do.

Order Up! Four Food Delivery Technology Giants You Need to Know About

Cell Phone Ordering

The newest trend in the restaurant industry? Cuisine on the couch, your customers’ couch that is.

The decline of customers stepping into retail stores has finally caught up to the restaurant industry with a surge in food delivery technology. Because, in the evenings, the hardest question customers want to answer is the slightly judgmental “are you still there?” from Netflix.

It’s all about convenience.

Yes, there is normally a delivery fee of some sort, and yes, they should tip your delivery driver, but often, customers are fine with paying a little more for convenience. Think about Amazon Prime. People pay an annual fee just to guarantee their purchases arrive on their doorstep within two days. Now that’s convenience at its finest and it’s something that more people are finding desirable in their eating establishments.

If a customer wants a meal from an across town restaurant that doesn’t deliver and can’t see the drive, wait time, and drive home as a valuable use of their hours, they are likely to pay for the convenience of that meal coming to them.

It can be intimidating to launch a delivery program, consider partnering with one of the restaurant delivery service apps that can get your meals into the hands of hungry, homebody customers. So who are the big players you need to know as a restaurant owner?

Takeout Box

Grubhub holds the bulk of the market share by being in 1,600 US cities including Philadelpia, Boston, Denver, and San Antonio. In 2013, Grubhub merged with Seamless creating a powerhouse portfolio of 80,000 takeout restaurants with the acquisition of Eat24, AllMenus, and MenuPages. The most recent reporting, according to GrubHub’s About Us page, shows Grubhub sending “nearly $4 billion in gross food sales to local takeout restaurants”. Grubhub/Seamless is noted as the delivery service of choice, used whopping 92% of the time in El Paso, Texas, and preferred in New York and Jacksonville 85% and 72% of the time, respectively. Grubhub can be ordered through both iOS and Android device apps that give customers a variety of payment options, saves your order history, and the ability to pre-order a food delivery.

UberEats, it’s like Uber, for your dinner! Even though it’s a separate app, UberEats works very similar to the Uber you’re used to. Customers can order UberEats delivery in 12+ US cities from hundreds of restaurants by using their website or app to browse, order, and track deliveries. This service is available nationally but is used most prevalently in Texas. UberEats ranks as the top delivery service in Houston, Austin, and Dallas. One of the most unique qualities about UberEats is their GPS locator. Like the ride app, customers can watch their dinner make their way to them via their delivery car. For the most part, UberEats charges a flat $5 delivery fee which can be a drop in the bucket or double your cost, depending on what you order.

Amazon Restaurants. You may have heard of a little thing called Amazon? It now offers food delivery through its Prime Now feature for 20 US cities and around 10,000+ restaurants, with its popularity peaking in its home stomping grounds of Seattle. But here’s the catch, this service is exclusive for Amazon Prime members. Integrating restaurant delivery seems like a natural fit; what can’t Amazon do? For those who read on an Amazon device, receive Prime packages every couple of days, and are fine with shelling out for a Prime subscription, using Amazon to order your favorite takeout probably makes a lot of sense. Amazon Restaurants is still in the beginning stages and is no small contender considering the experienced infrastructure and delivery network of its parent company.

DoorDash, from start-up to starting lineup. This service is available in large regions across the US including Southern California, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. DoorDash focuses on building partnerships with national chains like Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, and El Pollo Loco. DoorDash blankets most of the market share in San Jose with 78% usage with Fort Worth and Indianapolis close behind. Of course, it’s easy to know what you want from restaurants you’re used to ordering from, but what if you wanted to try something new? DoorDash make it easier to explore the unknown with its “DoorDash Delight” system. This score rates a user’s overall experience with the restaurant’s delivery program, which can help customers decide between Restaurant A or Restaurant B. Users can order through DoorDash with an iOS or Android device.

Cell Phone

Food delivery technology has come leaps and bounds from where it was 10 years ago but this technology is still highly concentrated in major cities where delivery is second nature. It’s important for restaurant owners to understand the appeal of the food delivery technologies that are out there because they say a lot about customer preferences. Using a food delivery technology, is not always going to be the largest portion of your sales but it is interesting to add that touch of convenience for your customers.

The restaurant industry is changing and evolving at a high pace, and with more pixel power than ever before, can your restaurant keep up?