By Larry Mogelonsky | January 20, 2021
It’s easy to be nothing but negative amidst all the holiday season lockdowns and the dearth of travelers on the books for the next few months. But here’s one behavioral shift, albeit niche, that should give you some hope for once the snow thaws.
While the spring is normally considered too cold for purely alfresco dining, some people may end up altering their eating patterns at the first sign of spring to chase that last morsel of sunlight and stay in the warmth. That is, in order to keep the good times rolling outside and not to risk exposure by venturing inside, dining parties may opt for an extended dinner in and around the time normally reserved for happy hour—approximately 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Other parties may similarly choose to enjoy a sunset drink out on the patio together at this time before moving to one member’s domicile once the sun has dipped below the horizon for a full dinner home.
Then, of course, you must also consider the snowbirds who will be driving south over the winter months to escape the cold and would very much like to maximize their sun exposure—something that has been dearly lacking from being couped up in your home during the lockdowns earlier this year.
Knowing that there is a heightened demand for this ‘three season’ sunset dining, it’s important that you align your back-end management software as well as your front-end digital channels so that customers know about your happy hour promotions and so that service levels are never compromised. Especially in the world where contactless service delivery is critical, you don’t want to create bottlenecks of sun-chasing patrons or harried servers that might increase contact.
To start, look at the data on your POS (or what’s available from the two-way integration with the PMS if your restaurant exists inside a hotel). Integration of all merchant touchpoints is critical so that you can develop a holistic picture of your customer history and behavior. Have you noticed a trend in past years, or even the past couple months, of the most popular dining times earlier in the evening? Answering positively here will help to inform staffing and pacing adjustments as well as whether a happy hour promotion is even worth your time.
For instance, what were the most popular items that people ordered in the late afternoon during this past Autumn? Start by leaning into your strengths and aligning your most purchased menu items with offers to past guests in order to churn up return visits. This can let you keep a sharper eye on inventory management, while also aligning the weather forecast—that is, sunny days equal more patio dining demand—will help you fine-tune staffing requirements.
Along these lines, do you know how many more patrons you can expect on sunny fall days versus cloudy ones? Similarly, are you set up to digitally accommodate contactless curbside pickup which will undoubtedly have higher demand on days with better weather?
While an analysis of past data will help tell you what has worked and perhaps reveal some areas where you can trim, you must also consider altering the menu and running new promotions that appeal specifically to outdoor dining during the spring and alleviating the cold. Think hot chocolate, cheese fondue, mulled wine (no more just for the holidays), heated schnapps, soups, fresh-out-of-the-oven comfort foods or even an amuse bouche that’s warming to the soul. If the data supports a probable revenue-generating venture into the outdoor happy hour space, then why not try out a program? Even if you achieve partial success this year, you can tweak the playbook for greater returns in Autumn 2021.
Then, as you well know, a new program is only as good as the launch activities you throw behind it. Such F&B projects are a perfect fit for social media and top-of-funnel localized search channels (in addition to retargeting). Not to inculcate you with the same message, but as before you should look at the data to see who amongst your past guests and loyalty base would be most appreciative of trialing your new program, maybe even bundling a value-add for coming during the initial launch period.
Ultimately, while capitalizing upon this minor shift in customer behavior may seem like small potatoes and not worth your time, in a depressed dining and travel marketplace, you have to find those pockets of revenue wherever they present themselves, and perhaps a small win may be just what you need to get you through the upcoming recovery period.