More than just a way to fill restaurant seats at slow times, happy hour is a showcase for the kitchen and bar. And when a happy hour is leveraged with powerful trends such as food and beer pairing
, the craft beer boom and the fascination with global flavors, it becomes a highly effective marketing tool and revenue producer for the operator.
Promote happy hour beer pairings to boost sales
The happy hours with the highest sales typically feature food and beverage choices that play off each other and invite pairing. That’s the idea at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Ore., part of the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group. A happy hour from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily invites guest to enjoy menu items with big flavors and complementary craft beers, signature cocktails and boutique wines.
Red Star’s dozen-item Oregon draught beer selection, priced at $2 less per glass at happy hour, includes robust styles such as hoppy IPA, heady strong ale and chocolatey, roasty stout. They dovetail with zestful nibbles like Pinwheel Fries with Steiny’s Sauce (fried potato wedges with a house dipping sauce of mayonnaise, chili sauce, pickles, onion and fresh herbs), fried chicken sliders with pickled cabbage and smoked wings with a sriracha and honey glaze.
Happy hour signature cocktails like Willamette Weak Sauce (gin, French vermouth, lemon, orange blossom honey and Serrano syrup) and The Forgery (bourbon, sherry, pomegranate and lemon) have the spirited backbone and fresh mixers to stand up to rich, zesty fare as well. Each is priced at $7 during happy hour.
“Well-thought-out drinks give people a taste of what our bar program is all about,” says Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star. He also notes that patrons find the happy hour noshes so enjoyable that they often stay for additional plates and drinks in the dining room. That’s a welcome upsell for the house as well as a more enjoyable experience for the guest.
Win happy hour fans with bold flavors
Happy hour promotions at the dining and drinking establishments of Chicago-based Heisler Hospitality market the marriage of beer and vibrant foods.
Pub Royale, a Heisler spot known for Indian-inspired cuisine, draws happy hour fans with appetizers and snacks laced with lively flavors that go famously with cold brew, like the following example:
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: From 5 pm. to 7 p.m. “Flights and Bites” include veggie samosas, $2; salt cod samosas, $3; and 4-ounce “duos” of rotating beers, $6.
“[Happy hour] is a great way to encourage customers to try something outside their comfort zone,” says Graham Heubach, Heisler beverage director. “You get to show off what makes your place unique.”
Here are more examples of promoting the alchemy of full-flavored beer and food at happy hour:
At Punch Bowl Social in Denver, happy hour guests create tongue-tingling combos with choices like these:
• Green Chorizo Fries, $11. Green chorizo, Monterey jack, pickled Fresno chiles, cilantro, crema and sea salt.
• Sheet Load of Nachos, $9. Corn tortilla chips, adobo marinated squash, poblanos, tomatoes, frijoles charros, Monterey jack, queso cotija, crema, salsa roja.
• Those shareable munchies go great with classic American lager beers, $2.50; well drinks, $5; and house wines by the glass, $5.
Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks, Calif., offers a 25 percent happy hour discount on draft brews and a menu of piquant morsels that includes:
• Jalapeño Popper Chicken Nuggets, $8. With bacon, jack, cheddar and cream cheese, chipotle ranch.
• White Bean Hummus, $7. With olive tapenade, za’atar spice and pita chips.
As the above items suggest, operators have great freedom to create flavor-filled happy hour menus that pair with beverages. One of the special opportunities is promoting appetizers and snacks that feature craft beer as a flavoring. For example, IPA beer-battered cheese bites and onion rings
complement a wide variety of brews and enhance the enjoyment of beer fans.
Stand out from competitors with distinctive marketing
A happy hour needs a vigorous push to connect with customers, says Kiva Wenig, assistant general manager of Il Porcellino, a Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant in Chicago. That’s why the Il Porcellino team plans to visit area offices to hand out a squeezable stress ball shaped like the $3 Italian sub sandwich featured at happy hour. The memento will bear the message: “Stressed? Come relax at Il Porcellino Happy Hour.”
“Door-to-door marketing is not dead,” says Wenig.
A well-conceived happy hour boosts a restaurant’s patronage and bottom line. Featuring exciting food and beverage pairings will help operators stand out from the crowd and enhance the guest experience.