Restaurant Briefing: Happier Happy Hours – What Patrons Seek

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express January 8, 2015

Two-thirds of consumers say they attend restaurant and bar happy hours—times on week nights when specials are offered on drinks and perhaps food—more than once a year. In fact, a fifth drop in on happy hour more than once a month. It’s obvious that this custom hits the sweet spot for consumers, but why? And how can operators improve their happy-hour offerings and traffic?

How Often Do You Attend Happy Hour?

MOTIVATORS AND PATRONAGE PATTERNS
Discounted prices are the defining feature of happy hours, but it appears that price looms larger as a motivator for guests today than it did just two years ago. Six out of 10 happy-hour customers identify good prices on food and drink as a key reason they patronize happy hour, compared to fewer than half who named food and drink prices in 2012, the last time we polled customers about happy-hour patronage.

Casual-dining restaurants are the most popular venue for happy hour. But there are notable patronage differences between older patrons, who tend to disproportionately gravitate to these spots, and younger parties. A quarter of adults over 35 say they prefer to visit a sports bar for happy hour, compared to just one-sixth of those aged 21 to 34. Younger adults tend to have more eclectic happy-hour patronage patterns in general; they are more likely than their elders to prefer a local pub or bar, a gastropub or another type of venue, such as a nightclub.

Why Do You Go to Happy Hours?

Casual-dining restaurants are the most popular venue for happy hour. But there are notable patronage differences between older patrons, who tend to disproportionately gravitate to these spots, and younger parties. A quarter of adults over 35 say they prefer to visit a sports bar for happy hour, compared to just one-sixth of those aged 21 to 34. Younger adults tend to have more eclectic happy-hour patronage patterns in general; they are more likely than their elders to prefer a local pub or bar, a gastropub or another type of venue, such as a nightclub.

What is Your Favorite Kind of Happy Hour?The majority of consumers tend to go to happy hour to spend time with friends, and almost as many go with their spouse or significant other. People who live in different environments have somewhat different patterns, however. For instance, those who reside in small cities or rural areas are far more likely to go to a happy hour alone, whereas suburbanites are disproportionately likely to share happy hour with their work colleagues.

With Whom Do You Usually Attend Happy Hour?As one would expect, Friday is by far the most popular night for happy-hour patronage, with seven out of 10 consumers saying they are likely to drop in at the end of the work week; the likelihood of patronage increases for each day of the week, from a low on Mondays to a high on Fridays. However, it should be pointed out that not all happy-hour patrons like to go on Fridays, and every day of the week has its partisans. Additionally, most of those who visit restaurants or bars for happy hour say they would go to happy hour on Saturday (90%) or Sunday (64%) if such a thing were available.

What Nights Do You Attend Happy Hour?No single beverage gets a majority vote as a happy-hour preference, although beer comes closest. In line with the price-sensitivity typical of happy-hour patrons generally, most beer drinkers prefer to order a domestic brew, but three out of 10 veer toward imports or craft beers.

Cocktails are a favorite happy-hour order for four out of 10 customers, wine for a quarter. Notable is the fact that during happy hour, soft drinks are as popular as cocktails and iced tea or iced coffee is nearly as popular as wine—indicating that many patrons either don’t imbibe at all or pace their alcohol consumption during happy hour.

What Types of Alcohol Do You Prefer?

STRUCTURING HAPPY-HOUR DEALS
As we have seen, deals on beverages and foods are the primary motivators for happy-hour patronage at restaurants and bars. While several types of specials have broad appeal, the most widely popular are the simplest: half off on all drinks or half off all appetizer orders. Two drinks for the price of one represent another variation of the 50%-off deal, but with less flexibility, so this deal is slightly less popular. Fewer than half of happy-hour customers find discounted pitchers of beer or soda or discounted line-price cocktails as attractive as these half-off or two-for-one deals.

As for food offerings, free or low-cost happy-hour buffets are extremely appealing to nearly three-quarters of happy-hour guests; more than half also quite like deals on specific foods (such as the establishment’s signature wings) as well as a promise to offer a bargain-priced dinner after happy hour.

What Kind of Happy Hour Deal Do You Prefer?

NON-ALCOHOL HAPPY HOURS
Although happy hours are closely linked to adult beverage consumption, there’s been a trend toward “happy hours” in restaurants that don’t even serve alcohol—such as an afternoon happy hour at Steak n Shake offering milkshakes for half off, or Starbucks’ occasional Frappuccino happy hour specials. Almost half of consumers say they’ve taken advantage of these types of happy hours. What’s more, eight out of 10 say they’re interested in the idea, whether or not they’ve actually encountered a happy hour in a malt shop, a coffee café or another type of establishment that doesn’t sport a liquor license.

Have You Ever Ordered a Happy Hour Special from a Restaurant That Did Not Serve Alcohol?Bottom line: Happy hour is a venerable and widespread custom in restaurants and bars, and one that has more consumer appeal than ever in a price-conscious era. However, operators of bars and casual-dining restaurants have a number of opportunities to boost business by restructuring offerings, and operators in other segments should also consider jumping on the happy-hour bandwagon.

 

Source: Technomic, Inc.