Used to be that happy hours ran in early evening as a way to get customers in the door during the predinner lull. Now some restaurants and bars are starting these promotions before 3 p.m. and running them as late as 11 p.m. And the food and drink menus have expanded in size and scope along with the hours.
But what motivates consumers to visit a place during happy hour, and what are they looking for? Technomic Ignite consumer brand metrics data reveals that it’s not always discount margaritas or the biggest spread of free snacks that drives traffic and sales. Take a look at what makes today’s happy hour customer happiest.
1. Living social
Socialization trumps promotions and discounts as the No. 1 reason people attend happy hours. According to Technomic, 49% of consumers are most interested in meeting with a group of friends, and 45% find these visits an easy way to relax.
Takeaway: Operators should consider marketing a happy hour as a highly social and relaxing occasion rather than a cheap night out. Board games, trivia nights and other interactive events spur socialization.
2. Time and day check
Tracking weekday visits, more consumers attend happy hours toward the end of the week, with 67% choosing Friday as the ideal day, followed by Thursday at 29%. Preferred starting times get later as the week progresses, too. On Monday, 26% choose 4 p.m. as the best time to begin happy hour, but by Thursday and Friday, the vote goes to 5 and 6 p.m.
Takeaway: Gear promotions toward preferred times, offering specials earlier in the evening on Mondays and Tuesdays and later toward week’s end.
3. Who’s drinking what?
Males and females are ordering different drinks during happy hour, finds Technomic. Beer is the beverage of choice for men, with 63% ordering up a brew. Women prefer cocktails to the tune of 39% and are also more likely to order a nonalcoholic drink (35%, vs. 25% for men). Interestingly, only 3% of consumers go for whatever alcohol is least expensive, indicating that price is not a prime motivation behind a happy hour visit.
Takeaway: With a significant number of customers seeking alcohol-free options, an inventive mocktail list can be a happy hour draw.
4. The food factor
Happy hour customers want to eat while they’re drinking, and they appreciate promotions that involve food. Sixty-six percent of consumers say that discounted appetizers would encourage them to attend happy hours more frequently, and 47% like the idea of food and beverage pairings. But beer and wine flights are not a selling point.
Takeaway: Offering a variety of bar snacks and appetizers can drive repeat visits and acquaint customers with the kitchen’s talents.
5. Going after a younger crowd
Although many fast-casual restaurants don’t have a bar, younger guests prefer to patronize those that do. Of those consumers in the 21-34 age group, 49% prefer fast-casual happy hours, compared to 35% for those 35 and over. Older customers tend to gravitate more toward casual-dining restaurants.
Takeaway: There is opportunity for fast-casual operators to offer happy hour promotions, even if an alcohol license is limited to beer and wine. And innovative mocktails can be a differentiator for this segment.