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Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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Return of the Happy Hour

There’s an all-out war on the local restaurant scene and higher-end restaurants are in the middle of it. Eateries such as Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Kate Mantilini are aggressively using happy hours with discounted cocktails and appetizers to draw in more customers. The happy hour concept is not a new restaurant marketing tactic, but it does appear to have made a comeback, said Robert Ancill, CEO and managing partner of West Hills-based restaurant consulting company The Next Idea. “They’re revisiting the whole concept of happy hour,” he said. “This has actually been a trend for quite some time, even before the recession. … What you’re seeing (now) is it’s more aggressively promoted.” Ancill said the happy hour revival is a response to restaurant customers being more frugal with how they spend their money. Prices during the local happy hours range from $3 to $7 for both food and drinks. Kate Mantilini started offering a happy hour on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. about three to four months ago, said restaurant manager Kent Weber. “The idea was to get the office buildings that are around us … familiar with our menu and what we do here at Kate Mantilini,” Weber said. “We were offering them a happy hour to kind of just get them in the door and just show off what we can do.” Weber said one aim is getting customers interested in either ordering dinner during their happy hour visits or returning for a meal in the future. The addition of the happy hour comes after a slump in business for the restaurant last year because of the recession. Sales fell by up to 30 to 35 percent, Weber said. However, they started increasing again early this year, he added. The recently added happy hour at Fleming’s in Woodland Hills, called “5 for 6 ‘til 7” offers select cocktails, wines and appetizers for $6 each daily from 5 to 7 p.m. Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, also in Woodland Hills, started offering its Aloha Hour with $5 drink and appetizer specials in February. The Cheesecake Factory officially added its weekday happy hour specials early this year, but tested it first at its Sherman Oaks location, said Wendi Shapiro, account director for Murphy O’Brien Public Relations. “The menu includes 16 full-sized appetizers for only $5,” Shapiro said in a statement, adding that the original prices range from $7.50 to $10.95. Market shrinks “The market has obviously contracted,” Ancill said. “Any way of generating more foot traffic and revenues in the restaurants is being utilized.” Other revenue-boosting tactics used by restaurants include promotion of catering and take-out services, he added. Ancill said that while the plan does generally help establishments boost revenues, there are several factors that restaurants should consider before making the decision. Such considerations include the happy hour’s effect on the restaurant’s food margin, its effect on the restaurant’s cost-of-goods margin, what the marketing costs are going to be, and whether the plan will actually result in a financial return. “If you don’t get enough balance of people coming, it could have a very negative effect,” Ancill said, adding that it could cut overall profitability. “In some cases, we would even classify it as a big-risk strategy.” Slowly making an impact For Maria’s Italian Kitchen in Encino, the focus of its new “Afternoon Delight” happy hour is on boosting afternoon sales, said Patrick Smith, the restaurant’s general manager. “It has slowly been working,” Smith said of the happy hour that runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, Smith said he has been careful to consider the balance of costs that come with drink and appetizer special. “Any time you discount things, food cost is going to come into effect,” he said. “But if we win over a handful or more guests that come in for lunch and dinner at normal prices, then it’s already been effective for me.” At Kate Mantilini, Weber said that while the bar is busy, he has not noticed much increase in the number of customers visiting for regular meals. However, he expects that will change. “I believe we will see a bump in our dining room sales,” Weber said. “When that is, I don’t really know.” Weber said Kate Mantilini differentiates its happy hour specials from those of other restaurants in the area by focusing on its own menu strengths. “We promote that we do martinis,” Weber said. “We’re a martini bar – more cocktails than beer and wine. “I think it’s a good idea to get the people in the door,” Weber added, in reference to the happy hour concept. “I think that it is something that can be very unique to your restaurant.”

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