Happy Hours are Hoppin’August 9, 2010 By: Alissa Ponchione
Happy hour is important for any bar or restaurant, but in order to run a successful one, bar and restaurant owners must know how to cater to a happy hour crowd while ultimately cultivating a loyal customer base. At Irvine, Calif.-based Yard House, the selection of half-price appetizers and discounted beer, wine and Martinis sets the chain a part from its competitors, allowing for a happy hour that keeps customers coming back.
“People are definitely looking for value,” Kip Snider, beverage director for Yard House says. “Happy hour for us started a little over five years ago. We took our 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. crowd and tripled it in the year.” Snider says with this onslaught of patrons and the sheer volume of inexpensive food and drink offered is the reason Yard House runs a successful and fruitful happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. from Sunday through Wednesday or Sunday through Thursday.
However, Yard House also offers a late night happy hour, which varies based on location. From 10 p.m. until close from Sunday through Thursday or Sunday through Wednesday nights, this reverse happy hour caters to industry people who just got off work and are looking to enjoy a few appetizers and drinks before they call it a night.
Happy hour is a lucrative way to get new patrons in the door, creating a lively environment and ultimately a prosperous business. Legal Sea Foods, the Boston-based seafood chain, recently revamped its happy hour for summer to do just that. The Penn Quarter location in Washington, D.C. offers signature drinks including the Fresh Watermelon Crush. Patrons save $2 on the cocktail, which is made with diced watermelon, Rain Organic Vodka and a splash of simple syrup for $7.95, whereas beer drinkers can sip PBR cans for $1.95 draft beers for $3.25 or save $2 on specific offerings of wine by the glass.
Additionally, happy hour menus were changed Legal Sea Foods locations in McLean, Va., and Bethesda, Md., to showcase $5 wine selections or appetizers under $10 Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. At the Bethesda location, drinks mixed with premium liquors such as SKYY Vodka, Beefeater Gin, Jack Daniel’s or Johnnie Walker Red that usually cost $9.95 are half off.
Although a smartly priced beverage menu can lure customers to the bar, offering a strong food menu is also important. Ultimately, this contributes to more drinks being ordered and larger check averages. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., is in the process of testing a new happy hour menu featuring small plates. The “Yum Cha Menu” includes Southeast Asian “sushi-style” rolls in four flavors, and guests choose three for $7.95 or Mandarin flatbreads for $6.95. Yard House, too, offers everything from chicken nachos and three types of chicken wings to seared ahi sashimi, as well as 15 other appetizers, for 50 percent off.
Yard House, however, is known for its beer selection, and its happy hour reflects its affinity for brews. From Bud Light to Chimay, all of the 174 brands, at its Long Beach location, are $3.50 to $5 during happy hour. Between the 27 Martinis, the beer and the wine-by-the-glass selection, Yard House knows how to create an enticing happy hour menu.
Happy hour also provides an opportunity to entice guests to expand their horizons. With 33 percent of Martini sales occurring during happy hour, Snider sees people stepping out of their comfort zone to try something new, especially when it doesn’t cost full price. This is the ideal situation for guests, Snider says because “the discounted price allows people to try other items. They’re hesitant to try a higher priced item at regular hours, but they’re willing to try something different, especially on the beer side [during happy hour]. You can get it for $3.50 or $5.50, and they’re very happy to get something like that.”
Yard House markets happy hour using table tents and menu inserts, but the most important asset to selling items are the products and the staff. “Our Martinis are pretty colorful and when people see those coming by the tables, they start inquiring,” says Snider. “The servers can involve the guest, and say it’s on our happy hour [menu].” Another selling tactic Snider uses: When it’s last call, servers let guests know they have the opportunity to purchase one more drink or another appetizer before happy hour is over.
Because Yard House offers a little bit of everything on its happy hour menu, it separates itself from the competition with its selection of beers, wines, spirits and food. “Anyone who comes in who drinks any type of adult beverage has an opportunity to enjoy it here,” says Snider. By staying on top of happy hour food and drink trends the way Legal Sea Foods, P.F. Chang’s and Yard House do, any establishment will benefit from evolving the happy hour food and drink menu and gaining new clientele and new profits in the process.