Front of the House // Bar
Menu, pricing make happy hour a success

Today’s consumers seek a big bang for their bucks. They also snack more than ever –– enjoying everything from snack wraps to small plates. Operators can capitalize on both of these flash points with enticing happy-hour promotions driven by savvy value strategies. The benefit for the operator is clear. Reaping the profits from increased traffic thrown into the typically slower part of the operational day is an attractive proposition. Pizza Today talked to several folks who boast successful happy hours that are contributing significantly to the bottom line.

ZA’s Pizza Pub in Louisville, Kentucky, offers happy hour every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with daily specials. Each day sees $1.50 Bud Light draft. Monday brings half-price appetizers, which has become the most popular happy-hour promotion. “Big Beer Tuesday” boasts one-dollar off 22-ounce drafts and “Get Well Wednesday” offers patrons $2.75 well drinks. “Offering the promotions is a loss leader for us,” says Jim Rigby, owner and general manager of this 100-seat pizzeria that specializes in traditional Sicilian pizza. “But, it gets people in the door early, and we get to sell a lot to them.

And then about half of them stay for dinner after happy hour. It’s a win-win for us.”

The Highlands, Colorado, location of Pasquini’s Pizzeria was having a tough time filling the quiet period between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. “We’re in a neighborhood, so (there are) not a lot of businesses to support us,” says bar manager Jacqueline Aragon-Combs. So she started a happy-hour promotion to drive traffic and increase sales. On the pizzeria side of the restaurant, the happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. In the adjunct Zio Romolo’s Alley Bar, a space dedicated to grown ups, happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “The impetus was to get people drinking and eating when we normally didn’t see activity,” she says. The impact on sales during those hours? A 40-percent increase in liquor sales and a 300-percent increase in food sales.

Pasquini’s runs various happy- hour promotions, including all- night happy hour on Mondays, $3 margaritas on Tuesdays and $3 shots of Jameson on Wednesdays. It developed a happy-hour menu, where everything is priced between two and five dollars. Meatball sliders are made with pizza dough formed into buns, sliced meatballs and marinara. Stuffshrooms are mushrooms stuffed with spinach or prosciutto. Cheese and pepperoni slices are available, too. “People end up spending as much as they would without the happy hour prices because they share, and they order more because of the value presented with each special,” says Aragon-Combs. “Happy hour is a great way to surprise and delight your customer.”

To promote and underwrite happy hour, Aragon-Combs recommends working with purveyors. “Recoup the cost on your liquor by parntering with your vendor. Ask them if they can support happy-hour promotions that feature their brands.” Pasquini’s broadcasts its specials on Facebook and through mailings.

Tutta Bella Neopolitan Pizzeria’s newest location in Seattle needed to increase sales. “We opened our fourth location in an emerging neighborhood, and we needed to attract new neighbors,” says R.C. Jennings, wine buyer and general manager of this 120- seat store that boasts authentic pizza napoletana. “Happy hour has become extremely competitive in this economy. We wanted to create one that fit with our culture and our vibe, recreating the happy-hour experience found in Italy.” As part of that vibe, “complimentary nibbles” are served with drinks during happy hour, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Beer gets a complement of candied hazelnuts. Wine, marinated Italian olives. Tutta Bella offers $2 off draft beer and wine and $3 off cocktails during happy hour. It combines a menu pulled from the restaurant, peppered with happy-hour exclusives (which Jennings says will increase this summer). One of the biggest attention-getters is the happy hour offer of $6 margherita pizza ($11 on the regular menu). “We get a lot of buzz with that promotion,” says Jennings.

Tutta Bella (named Pizza Today’s 2010 Independent of the Year) went from no customers in the late afternoon to an average of 50 a day. “Good happy-hour promotions get butts in the seats,” he says. “We have about 50 percent that just come in for cocktails and nibbles, which is great, but the other 50 percent stay for dinner. They can stretch their dollar.” To promote happy hour, Tutta Bella promotes on Facebook, but finds good old-fashioned A-frame sidewalk signs the biggest magnet. u


Urban Crust in Plano, Texas, sits in a residential area, so attracting the after- work crowd wasn’t a good option. “Commuters would miss an afternoon/early evening happy hour here, so we needed to come up with a different strategy,” says executive chef/partner Salvatore Gisellu. “We decided to focus our efforts on bringing in a late-night crowd.” Urban Crust introduced its “Reverse Happy Hour” during the height of the recession in the summer of 2009. It runs weekdays from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., featuring one- dollar off appetizers and drinks. Urban Crust’s rooftop bar, 32 Degrees, boasts a 30-foot-long ice bar with frozen liquor taps as a selling point.

Appetizers spring from the regular menu, ranging from Tuscan blue-cheese fries and mussels to antipasto plates and fried calamari. “We have lots of regulars now, who come because of happy hour,” says Gisellu. He reports that the 145- seat restaurant’s happy-hour promotion has increased revenue by 10 percent. “Because they get a good deal on the appetizers, they order more than they normally would,” he says. The labor costs of keeping the kitchen open a bit later than before is more than offset by the extra dollars brought in.

Urban Crust markets the happy hour through Constant Contact, table tents and its Facebook page. “We also motivate our staff to spread the word by offering them prize incentives,” says Gisellu. The server tells the customer about happy hour, and if that customer mentions the name of the server during happy hour, he or she gets a free dinner, bottle of wine or gift certificate. “Texting is another great way to broadcast one- night-only deals,” he says. The restaurant asks its staff to text friends, promoting a special, such as 50 cents off of vodka shots. “We’ll do it on a slow night, and it’s amazing how busy we can get from a staff texting promotion! I think it’s because we give it a sense of urgency, ‘Tonight only,’ kind of thing,” he says.

Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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