Happy hour, minus the booze

While happy hour conjures promises of $5 margaritas and two-for-one beers, this universal ploy for boosting beverage sales is by no means limited to the bar—or to a mere 60 minutes. Quick-service establishments and cafes are incentivizing the likes of smoothies, iced tea and more to encourage customers to visit during quieter business hours.

Every day, from 2–4 p.m., Oklahoma City-based Sonic Drive-In offers half-priced soft drinks, teas and slushies. “Like most quick-service restaurants, we used to see a slowdown in customer traffic after lunch and before dinner. By introducing happy hour, we took a slower part of the day and made it profitable,” says Eddie Saroch senior vice president of field services. Sonic claims its customizable beverage program offers over 1 million drink permutations, a feature that has built a loyal following. These loyalists are especially drawn to the afternoon discount, says Saroch. In addition, based on last year’s popularity, Sonic will reinstate a promotion this summer offering half-price milkshakes after 8 p.m.

To introduce its new Italian-inspired fruit-and-ice treat, the Tea Granita, Los Angeles-based specialty coffee and tea retailer Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, hosted an “I Need a Granita Week” in March. Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., customers were invited to sample a small Passion Fruit and Assam Black Tea Granita or the caffeine-free Pear Berry version for $2, about $1 off the full retail price. “By offering a promotional price during the midday hours, we encouraged trial and got more customers in to try something new,“ says Diane Kuyoomjian, VP of marketing. In this case, the limited-time happy hour served as a kind of focus group to gauge acceptance of the new item.

Many of Irvine, Calif.-based Juice It Up’s franchisees offer happy hour specials to customers during the afternoon and early evening. The goal, says COO Paul Schmidt, is not only to drive traffic to the stores but to stand apart for a “healthier version of the traditional happy hour.” Additionally, he feels the happy hours mesh well with today’s trend toward snacking and eating occasions rather than strict dayparts. Juice breaks can transcend normal breakfast, lunch and dinner routines, he believes.

In some Juice it Up stores, if customers buy a juice or smoothie before 11 a.m., they can return after 2 p.m. with their receipt and order another one for $2 (it’s the Treat Receipt model that has significantly boosted return customers for the biggest of beverage chains, Starbucks, since 2008). Others offer a 24-ounce smoothie for $3 between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“Each of our locations executes the happy hour tactic in it own way, and overall the introduction of this promotion has driven sales up during hours that are normally slow periods,” Schmidt says.


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