HOW TO REJUVENATE YOUR BAR
In most cases, there is no excuse for not having a Happy Hour, or some similar promotion to build bar business in a restaurant. It is too easy to come up with drink specials and the uptick in business in your dining room more than compensates for the increase in bar cost. This is the easiest way to rejuvenate a bar, and is usually the first step in building bar business. There are many other ways to rejuvenate your bar, a few of which will be discussed below. However, they all have the same purpose—giving people something to talk about.
Bar business is all about word-of-mouth. People come to a restaurant’s bar because someone invited them, or for some mutually decided social interaction. Regardless of the reason, the decision to go out to a bar follows some dialogue about going out and deciding where to go. Your restaurant’s bar has to give people something to discuss when they are talking about where to go. It has to fit into a sentence or two and it has to answer the question: why should we go to that bar tonight? A good Happy Hour with good drink specials and a sizeable crowd does that instantly.
One suggestion is to format your drink and food specials into a clever, easy-to-remember tagline or phrase. Some operators use the number of specials and the price: 5 drinks under $5, for example. A clever Happy Hour promo I recently saw fit the specials into the area’s zip code. If the zip code was XYZ, the promo offered X appetizers and Y drinks, all under Z dollars. Another offered $2 glasses of wine on Tuesdays. Each of these give guests something to remember.
An important part of promoting Happy Hour prices is the guidelines many states have prohibiting advertisements of alcohol. In the state where I live, it’s not only illegal to promote drink specials off premises; it’s illegal to provide literature (such as brochures) for guests to take off premises that advertise discounted alcohol. For what it’s worth, the state is Virginia and many restaurant operators in this state clearly aren’t aware of this law. This emphasizes the need to create a Happy Hour format that cultivates a robust word-of-mouth response.
The restrictions on advertising alcohol prices that exist in many states do not prohibit marketing a good Happy Hour. In fact, they make getting the word out about a bar a top priority of any marketing ventures a restaurant may have. Seriously. It is not going to happen on its own and, in many cases, low prices, quality service and great atmosphere do not mean people are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in your bar. If a restaurant does any off-site marketing, email blasts or online social networking, the Happy Hour specials (or just the fact that a Happy Hour exists) should be front-and-center. There should also be some visible advertising of bar specials in the building—next to a hostess stand or in the lobby, along with something prominently placed inside the bar.
There are other ways to cultivate bar business besides price reductions. Many restaurants incorporate a bar menu, with scaled-down selections at lower prices. Also, many restaurants offer freebies, such as steak sandwiches or shrimp from a raw bar. Other thoughts include live music, karaoke, games and performances. However, these should dovetail somehow with the concept of a restaurant. They are also most effective when they are limited to specific nights, especially nights that are otherwise slow.
Most veterans of this business know that a restaurant’s bar business is typically linked to the dining room. A healthy bar usually equates to a busy dining room. On the other hand, a quick way to galvanize a flagging dining room is to get people bellying up to the bar. Many operators overlook their bars and, in some cases, it is a critical error that can be easily fixed.