Every place that serves food or drinks tends to offer specials as well. But when everyone offers specials, how can you make yours stand out?
When planning your next event or special, think about your target audience. Are you looking to bring in more customers for the between lunch-and-dinner lull? Or want to be more competitive with your sports-night specials? Identify your goal, then get creative with your concepts.
Almost every restaurant has a special, at least every week if not every day. But if your featured specials are boring (or worse, the same every day or week), then they may not be sparking the interest that you would like. Some restaurants offer a dizzying number of specials as well, which can overwhelm customers and make them forget what their choices are. Keep your menu of food specials short, and rotate them frequently. Keeping your specials seasonal is a great way to take advantage of what’s in-season as well as adding a natural variety to your menu.
Happy Hours / Cocktail Hours
The reliable Happy Hour. It’s been reinvented by restaurants and bars across the country many times over, hoping to draw in customers during the post-lunch, pre-dinner lull. But if your Happy Hour isn’t drawing in customers, it may be time to change it up. Offering a small discount on drinks or appetizers may not be enough to lure patrons away from other establishments with cheaper deals. If going cheaper isn’t an option, go for something different. Scope out the Happy Hour specials around you, and ask yourself: what can you offer that strays off the beaten path?
Not offering brunch? Are your Sundays slower than you’d like? Offer a limited-hour brunch on Sundays with a special cocktail menu. Find out what kind of brunches other restaurants are hosting near-by, and ask yourself what you can do to stand out. Could you offer a cheaper alternative? Or is the neighborhood looking for something fancier? Brunch is a great “introductory” to your restaurant, as it offers customers a cheaper menu to try out your place. Make sure you’re staying true to your brand, and offer a bite-sized introduction to your restaurant to weekenders.
Game Day Specials
Everyone loves a game day special. Whether its beer, burgers, or wings, crowds pack bars on sports nights. But game day specials can be very competitive depending on your location. If your establishment is surrounded by sports bars and grills, it may be difficult to come up with a cheaper, better, or unique special for sports events. Be diligent about your competition, and offer specials that your customers actually want will help keep your establishment ahead of the pack. Keep in mind that sports nights are social events, when most patrons are out in groups. Offer a special that would benefit a group, or make appetizer platters that are sharable. Your reputation for being the go-to game day bar or restaurant will grow if you take your customers’ experience into consideration.
Craft Beer / Cocktail Specials
If you’re not serving local or craft beers, wine, and spirits, you should consider starting. Local brews are becoming household names, and people are eager to seek them out. And many others are just looking to try something new. Rotate your offerings, whether it’s seasonally or based on supply, so that customers will look forward to returning to try something they never have before, or to have a glass from their favorite brewer.
Whether it’s a band, karaoke, talent show, seminar, or poetry reading, offering a live performance at your establishment can bring in customers based on interest. Performers or groups come with their own audience already, and by hosting them, you can introduce people to your bar, restaurant, cafe, or brewery and make them repeat customers. Take your existing customer base into consideration, as well as your location, and consider if a live event might help spread the word about your business.
Arts / Networking Events
If your establishment has space, you might want to consider hosting a social event like a gallery showing or networking event. Feature local artists and serve tapas and wine. Or host a networking event for professionals and make a craft beer and cocktail menu with appetizer foods. Get to know your local networking and art groups, and offer your space as a meeting place. This could open the door for repeat events, and introduce your brand to a large number of people at once. You might even grow your own network in the process.
Host a Pop-Up
Pop-ups are becoming very popular among cafes, bistros, breweries, and even restaurants. Whether it’s hosting a food truck, a visiting bartender, or stocking a mobile-food service (like Pigeon Bagels or Relish, for example) people love variety, and the chance to try new things keeps customers coming back. If it fits your concept and your space, consider inviting a food truck to your establishment or collaborating with another restaurateur, chef, or bartender to mix things up for your clientele.
Like hosting a themed house party, you can choose a theme for an event: a costume party, a horror theme, vintage themes, host a holiday party, a beach party in winter, anything you could imagine. Create a matching special cocktail menu or small plates. This works better in a more casual bar setting, but get creative and introduce a themed night to your establishment. You could even mix this with another event, like live music or trivia.
Trivia / Game Nights
Remember going over to your friends’ house for wine and trivia nights? Imagine that, but hopefully without your really competitive friend that doesn’t like to lose. This type of special event works better in a social environment, like a bar or brewery, rather than in a traditional restaurant. On a slower night, a bar-wide game of trivia with drink and food specials could be just want you need to fill seats. You could offer board games, trivia, or other interactive games. Keep your customers and brand in mind when picking your theme (sports, history, pop culture, music, etc.) as well as when selecting your menu. Customers who find game nights they enjoy can be very loyal and attend monthly or even weekly. Try out a more laid-back social event, and you may find that you’re attracting new regulars to your establishment.
Experiment A Little
The possibilities for hosting special events are endless, and there’s bound to be a handful that would fit your establishment perfectly. Take a look around at other restaurants for inspiration, and take your customers into consideration. You could host a speed dating night, a wine event, holiday specials, a street fair, community days, fundraisers, workshops, bar crawls, and more. Keep an open mind, and try something new. Make sure your specials and events fit with your brand and are not sending mixed messages to your client base as to who you are. And keep in mind: not every special or event will turn out to be a winner, but don’t let that deter you from trying again.