By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

The taboo of eating indoors at a restaurant as a result of COVID-19 will persist for well into 2021. While the spring is normally considered too cold for purely alfresco dining, some people may end up altering their meal patterns now through June 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 coronavirus exposure by venturing inside (not to mention any government mandates about eating inside), dining parties may opt for an extended dinner in and around the time normally reserved for happy hour – approximately 3pm to 6pm. 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.

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 happening 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 2020? What are some of the more exceptional dining habits that are you witnessing right now, from roughly early March to present?

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 finetune staffing requirements.

Along these lines, do you know how many more patrons you can expect on sunny 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. 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 spring, you can tweak the playbook for greater returns in Autumn 2021 or Spring 2022 – some pandemic-born behaviors are here to stay, after all.

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 our currently-still-recovering 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.

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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.