When your doors are open and you have empty seats, you're losing money. It's a simple fact. And one of the most spartan times in the dining room is the "early bird" period of 5:00 - 7:00 PM. How can you fill up some of those seats without turning your restaurant into an extended care facility for a few hours? Here are some ideas:
- Happy Hour with some panache will attract an after-work crowd that is a bit more upscale than the pretzel-and-beer-by-the-pitcher crowd. Design a B2B flyer that can be delivered to surrounding business inviting everyone in for small plates, specialty drinks, etc., (which happen to be highly profitable items!).
- Promote special occasions like birthdays or office parties during these times. Provide festive decorations, a special menu, and offer a free dessert or a complimentary bottle of champagne if the party starts before 7 PM.
- Chef's Table dinners don't have to be in the kitchen. Designate a table in the dining room where the chef personally introduces and serves the night's specials and interacts with the customers.
- Feature menu item specials during these hours. This gives guests the opportunity to try a variety of menu items at a great price. Read more about this type of promotion in Hump Day.
- Offer a free dessert for all "early birds." Walking delectable looking desserts to the table as other diners are just beginning their meal will mindset them to save room for something sweet. It's the equivalent of walking a dessert tray through the restaurant.
- Coordinate with local sports teams, schools, or theaters to promote your restaurant as the perfect place to dine before games, PTA meetings, performances, etc. A simple flyer distributed with tickets or meeting reminders ensure that guests can have a great meal and not be late. This might also be a chance to promote late-night dessert and after-dinner drink business, too! We've come up with some promo samples that you can download.
- Use this slow time to do some menu research and development. Create a special prix fixe menu that features items not on your regular menu. The kitchen can experiment with new recipes, menu items, etc., and get some feedback from the guests about the meal using a special comment card. Thinking about adding some new beers or wines to the list? This is also a fun time to experiment with beverage pairings.
- A good old cross promotion is a always successful. During your busy times, give guests a gift certificate (remember... no coupons) toward a meal, free appetizer, etc. if they come your slow time. A party will always spend much more than the gift certificate is worth, and you'll build a pattern of guest loyalty.
The options are endless! Get creative with new promotional ideas, or try tweaking existing marketing campaigns to focus on your slow times. The important thing is to put butts in seats.