Photos by Rick Daugherty
Promoting your happy hour can cost next to nothing and draw new customers to your pizzeria. Happy hour, which always lasts for more than a single hour, usually falls after people get off work or later in the evening when dinner is no longer served. During those times, drinks can be purchased at a discount and sampler-size food, appetizers or personal pizzas are served.
Even though most pizza restaurant owners strive for the same goal –– to increase patronage during normally slow periods –– each has different methods of marketing their happy hour.
“We wanted to launch (happy hour) softly, so we didn’t do much (marketing) at first,” says R.C. Jennings, general manager of the Westlake location of Tutta Bella in Seattle.
“We used a sandwich board sign at the top of our stairs, notified our e-mail club, and every take-out pizza box had a ‘Tutta Bella happy hour’ sticker on it.” Jennings believes the most effective marketing for his foot traffic was the sandwich board — and for everyone else, word-of-mouth worked best.
At Table 42 in Boca Raton, Florida, owner Gary Rack recently expanded happy hour to include the hours between 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., but in the bar area only.
Rack uses inserts in check presenters, table tents, an outside banner, the restaurant’s Web site, his Facebook page and his e-mail database containing several thousand contacts to market his happy hour.
Comprehensive comment cards are given to each patron at Table 42, asking them to rate the food, cleanliness and ambience, but also asking for their e-mail address. With a qualified database, each contact has said they want to be kept abreast of all VIP events, happy hours and other promotions. Rack says that’s the best way he’s found to market internally.
“The concierges at all the local hotels know about our happy hour, too,” says Rack. “We wanted to start the event slowly to make sure we have all our ducks in a row and find out what appetizers are being ordered.”
Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Las Vegas has two “happy hours” –– from 5 to 7 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to close. Dominick Marzigliano, general manager, has taken advantage of some local outlets for his marketing.
“We just hooked up with myvegashappyhour. com and will be advertising in Where, the magazine you find in hotels all over the city, plus we’re on Twitter and Facebook,” says Marzigliano.
The days when TV, radio, newspaper and yellow pages advertising helped bring in customers are gone, says restaurant consultant Aaron Allen. Now it should be a footrace for the pizza segment to get on an iPhone app, because the iPhone is the fastest selling product in the history of mankind, Allen says.
A Google search for “iPhone apps for happy hours” should help you find the one most suited to your particular needs. Happy Hour Finder, one of those apps, enables iPhone users to find happy hours anywhere in the United States. Many regional happy hour apps also exist.
Happy hour doesn’t have to be the same everyday, especially now that social media and iPhones let you announce a promotion almost instantly.
“Why not hold a happy hour in the next hour and sell drinks for $1 or even give them away?” asks Allen. “You can ‘tweet’ about it on Twitter and others will ‘retweet’ for you. Even if you offer free drinks for that hour, the cost will either be the same or less than what you’d spend marketing a traditional happy hour combined with the hit you take serving discounted drinks.”
Allen says the traditional happy hour is an outdated 1980s approach and that spending marketing dollars to bring people into your pizzeria, who then order cheap drinks and smaller portions of food, doesn’t work.
“You can actually get more people in by not giving a discount,” says Allen. “Partner with a charitable organization, sell $5 drinks for $7 one day a week and give the proceeds to the charity. That increases your word-of-mouth marketing, and you might just get a mention in the news.”
Announce your charitable happy hour on Facebook and Twitter for free. Your younger staff knows all the ins and outs of digital media and can help you with this.
Instead of trying to improve slow periods, Allen suggests extending your peak periods an hour or so.
“Focus on the peaks where you can expand. Promote those to get customers into dinner earlier and you can turn another table during that time,” says Allen. Whatever you do to be innovative, you need to stick to your guns, says Rack. If you decide to have happy hour from 10 p.m. until you close at 11:30 p.m., even if there’s only one customer in your pizzeria at 11 p.m., you still can’t close early.
“You can’t close when you’ve said you will be open,” Rack says.
A party might show up after 11 p.m., expecting happy hour prices. If you’re still unsure of how to market your happy hour, Marzigliano suggests asking other businesses and pizzerias in your neighborhood what they do.
“Ask them where people look for happy hours,” says Marzigliano, who is new to Las Vegas. That’s how he found out about myvegashappyhour.com. Your city may have something similar.
Don’t be afraid to call your happy hour by another name. Coin something individual just for your brand, Allen suggests. ❖
Ensuring your customers’ safety
Now that you’ve drawn in new customers because of your happy hour promotion, make sure they aren’t over-served. Here are some tips from restaurant consultant Aaron Allen:
❖ Provide every employee with bar safety or responsible alcohol training, and don’t do it yourself.
❖ Give each employee who successfully completes bar safety training written documentation.
❖ Provide taxi service for anyone who shouldn’t be driving. This protects both the customer and you from legal retaliation, should there be an accident.
❖ Have a crisis communications plan in place, so if something happens because a patron had too much to drink, every staff member will know what to do and say.
❖ Tell your employees once how to handle an over-served patron and remind them 1,000 times.
Heather Larson is a freelance writer in Tacoma, Washington, who frequently writes for trade publications.
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