Happier (More Profitable) Happy Hours

Happy hour specials are a time-honored strategy for drawing patrons in on weekday evenings, when bars might not otherwise see too much of a crowd. However, you obviously don’t just offer bargain beer, wine, and well drink specials for the mere sake of giving your profits away; you want to make sure that the draw of these specials actually pays off. So ask yourself the question: is your happy hour “happy” enough, or could it be better? Is it boosting the bottom line, as it should?

Later Hours: Shifting the Logistics

A modern-day happy hour might run as early as 3:00 to 6:00, and yet, these days, even so-called “nine to five” office workers might consider leaving work by 6:30 a small miracle. What’s more, an increasing number of Americans are also working non-traditional jobs and may therefore work later schedules; they can’t necessarily afford to call it a day at 5:00 or 5:30 to make it to a traditional happy hour, and they may not earn enough from their fledgling start-ups, freelance gigs, etc. to justify ordering more than one regularly priced drink, even as they occupy valuable bar stool real estate – in turn making your thus under-tipped bartenders frustrated enough to want to find a new weeknight job.

While it’s true that you make more in profits when patrons are paying full price, customers may not be so eager to come to your establishment if they even subconsciously feel cheated of the specials that others with earlier schedules are able to take advantage of. Empty bar stools mean lower profits for you. The point is that you may want to seriously re-think which (and how many) actual hours you should truly make your “happy” ones. With so many people burning the candle at both ends today, an after work drink can really hit the spot, but the last thing people need at the end of a stressful work day is to feel rushed about one more thing, when a six-pack at home could do the trick for so much less.

If you’re nervous about extending the hours during which you serve happy hour specials, then simply experiment for a few weeks. If the extra volume doesn’t outweigh the lower price per drink, no one is saying you have to stick with the new schedule. However, if you put the word out and play up the fact that yours is the bar with more (and later) “happy hour” hours, the results just might surprise you. People are looking for place to relax after work, after all – not a place where they feel pressured to watch the clock.

Additional Bait: Appetizers

You’ve planted one excellent bait for reeling customers in just by making sure the lower-priced liquids are flowing, but even fish in the sea don’t survive on water alone; they need something to eat. Happy hour is in direct competition with prime time dinner hours, after all, and even the heartiest drinkers won’t last too long if all they have to munch on are nuts, popcorn, and those little  crackers largely designed for toddlers.

If your happy hour food is good but inexpensive, on the other hand, patrons will be more willing to stick around, not just because they won’t need to pay someone elsewhere to tend to their growling stomachs, but also because they figure, while they’re at it, they might as well order another round. When your customers know they can sit tight at your bar for affordable food and several rounds of affordable drinks, they’re more likely to keep the orders coming; everyone wins. So consider luring patrons to your bar menu with a range of small appetizers under $10, perhaps between $4 and $7 in price. You can always up the ante by making a beverage purchase a requirement just in case. (Remember that that doesn’t require people to drink more alcohol, as they can always order a soft drink instead).

When it comes to happy hour, the bottom line is…well, your bottom line. The whole point of happy hour should be to serve your business, and that will happen when happy hour first works for your customers.

Josh Saunders

Josh Saunders

Josh is the Founder and CEO of Uncorkd. In addition to helping restaurants on their beverage programs, Josh enjoys cooking, craft beer, and wine. He resides in Chicago, Illinois with his daughter.
Josh Saunders