How to Boost Happy Hour Sales

Crafting thoughtful, well-curated menus for happy hour and late-night service is well worth the effort. These promotional periods can be an unexplored profit powerhouse for any operation.

In fact, it’s food that’s the major driver of happy hour attendance—not the booze. Some 47% of consumers said food and beverage pairings would encourage them to attend happy hours more frequently, while nearly half of consumers said promotions like beer flights, wine flights and tap takeovers would not drive their business, according to 2016 consumer data from Technomic.

Use on-hand ingredients in new ways

The newly revitalized bar menu at Ai Fiori in New York City has garnered an “amazing response,” says Jonna Gerlich, a managing director of the Altamarea Group, which oversees the operation.

The restaurant offers one bar menu, from happy hour through late night, which it promotes under the “Bar Fiori” banner. All dishes on the revamped menu feature ingredients already used in the dining room, often in inventive ways. For example, pieces of lobster that are too small for entrees have been repurposed into a popular lobster toast dish at the bar. The bar menu also features shareable, seasonal “snack jars” with mixed olives, pickled vegetables and spiced nuts. The jars, which have been big sellers, have the added advantage of being able to be prepped in advanced and served right at the bar, by the bartender.

Go craveable and shareable

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Shareable items like the snack jars, loaded fries, and cheese and charcuterie trays are a perfect fit for happy hour and late-night menus. Nearly half (49% and 45%, respectively) of consumers say they attend happy hours to meet up with friends and to relax, according to Technomic consumer data from 2016.

The recently fine-tuned late-night menu at Macao Trading Co. in New York’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood, has boosted sales and earned rave customer reviews, all the while putting little extra stress on the kitchen, says the restaurant’s Executive Chef Erica Ohrling.

In creating the menu for the bar, which serves food until nearly 4 a.m. each day, Ohrling’s goal was to create craveable dishes that used existing ingredients and stations.

“You’re breaking down dinner,” she says. “You don’t want to have to set up a while new station for a whole new service. It just makes for a smoother transition.”

One of the most popular new items is a Chinese chicken sausage with pickled shallots and spicy Chinese mustard on a brioche bun.

“It’s filling. It’s kind of spicy,” she says. “It kind of hits all those notes you want when you’ve been having a couple of beers.”

Breakfast wins at all dayparts

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Brian’s 24 in San Diego, Calif., offers an exhaustive diner menu of some 300 items. The late-night menu is pared down to about 100 of the restaurant’s best-sellers in every menu category. Chicken and waffles are hugely popular, as are many of the fried, shareable appetizers like onion rings, mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers.

Late-night consumers, who’ve often been drinking, aren’t particularly price conscious, says restaurant co-owner Brian Epstein. They like unpretentious, comforting food and large portions. So, Brian’s menu playfully offers callouts like “a full pound of crispy fries” on the Carne Asada Fries appetizer, the “huge slice” of meatloaf on the Meatloaf Sandwich and the “6 Egg Absolutely Everything Omelette.”

All-day breakfast is another profitable late-night offering, Epstein says.

Marketing the late-night menu to club-goers as well as those in the restaurant and hospitality industry has also boosted business, he says.

“Give it time,” he says, when it comes to adding a late-night or happy hour menu. “It takes time. It’s basically like opening a new restaurant.”

Looking for craveable, shareable items to boost your menu at happy hour and late night? Check out the wide assortment of fries, onion rings and other winning products from McCain Foodservice.