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Stealable idea: Up millennial bar business without adding SKUs

High-end restaurants don’t need deep discounts to win over younger consumers whose preferences exceed their means. Getting creative with what’s already in the kitchen—and marketing it as a value add—might help to capture that elusive millennial clientele more consistently, especially at the bar.

Ripple, located in a fairly affluent community in Washington, D.C., is an upscale concept with a check average around $50. To avoid being seen only as a special-occasion spot, owner Roger Marmet put some “snacking” items on the menu to bring in locals not looking for a big meal out. “When you’re a restaurant in a neighborhood, it’s smart to be able to offer a list of snacks, as long as your kitchen can handle it,” says Marmet. So he started the snack menu with cheese and charcuterie, designed to serve either as an appetizer or a shareable option.

But what started as snacks on the regular menu morphed into an extension that increased happy-hour bar sales, especially among younger consumers. And it wasn’t charcuterie plates Ripple was slinging. “We had cheese, we had a slicer, so we turned it into grilled cheese to boost bar business.” In addition to happy-hour deals on wine by the glass and craft beer (which have proven to resonate with millennials), bar flies can order an upscale sandwich from the grilled-cheese bar during happy hour for around $11—a much easier pill to swallow on a random night after work than a $28 entrée.

Marmet says the grilled-cheese deal at the bar has brought in new revenues from a crowd Ripple didn’t normally see. While happy-hour guests aren’t exclusively millennials, they do sway younger. “It was easy for us to accommodate, and helped build a loyal following from a different audience,” Marmet says.

So while the big–ticket guests in the dining room make more of a dent in the revenue pot, a steady stream of bar guests, including many regulars, bring in a fair share of dollars as they pop in for a grilled cheese made from stuff already in the kitchen—no extra ordering needed. And winning over those guests as loyal bar patrons is likely to be worth it down the line. After all, they’re already comfortable with Ripple, so it’s not a stretch to thing they’d jump to the higher-priced menu when looking for a more pricey evening out.

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