Yesterday I went with my wife to meet some friends in the bar of a restaurant. It was Friday night and, although the crisis, the bar was packed. Perhaps because it was 5:15 p.m.: Happy Hour time.

The bar was just next to (and open to) the, restaurant, which was almost empty, just two tables were busy. So we went around trying to find our friends but they weren't there yet. One restaurant manager came to us and told us that if wanted to enjoy the Happy Hour, we needed to wait in line. There was already a line of people forming by the entrance.

I politely asked the manager why they didn't use the restaurant space, since it was empty and was still too early for dinner anyway. They could sit people there and tell them that happy hour will finish at 6 p.m. (which it did) and after that time they needed to leave the restaurant area and relocate to the bar if tables were needed. Probably by 6 p.m. many of the people in the bar would be done anyway because it was the ending time of the happy hour.

I thought that this was a fair agreement and we would be totally willing to take it. However, the guy looked at me like I was speaking Klingon. "Sorry Sir", he told me, "but we can't do that. The restaurant is for dinner only". He took our names and asked us to wait.

Obviously, most of the people who were sited to enjoy the Happy Hour just arrived so they weren't going to leave anytime soon.

Many of the people in the line behind us started to leave the place. Many other people came, asked, and then when told that they will have to wait also left.

One of our friends came and we talked about going somewhere else. Since we were next in line, we agreed that she will leave and looked around to find available space. Five minutes later, she called us and told us that she found available tables in a restaurant located one block from there. Of course, we also left the place and join her over there.

Now, think about it. This place had plenty of people leaving because they didn't fit in the bar. It also had around 40 empty tables "waiting for people who may come or not for dinner".

They were leaving money walking out the door!

Does this make any sense to you? It surely doesn't make it to me.

They were blindly following some nonsensical rule that dinner tables were only for dinner, and letting people walk away while having empty tables. It would've been so easy for them to follow my recommendations and use the restaurant space... Instead, they preferred to stick to their guns and let people leave the place unhappy.

Now, if you follow my blogs, newsletters or read my book, you know how important is for restaurants to make their clients feel happy and special.

Do you think that they accomplished that? I don't think so, I'm surely won't go back to that place.

There is plenty of restaurants with bars and happy hours to make me happy without to be waiting in line next to empty tables.

Jose L Riesco

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Tags: business, customers, inefficiencies, management, marketing


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Comment by David Herfkens on January 26, 2009 at 12:45am
As Clint Eastwood would say "A man's got to know his limitaions". Lots of places will advertise a "Happy Hour" without the means to suport it. Unfortunately this means that the guest and the business will suffer. Fortunatly for you there are other businesses that WANT to serve you, in a free market economy you are free to take your business else-where.

Comment by Paul Paz on January 22, 2009 at 12:28am
Thanks for th vote of confidence. And yes, I'd look for ways for my custmers to win. I do appreciate Jose's openess to my perspectives. Again... another demonstration of good FOHBOH discussion that moves towards resolutions that benefit all.

Comment by Jose L Riesco on January 20, 2009 at 10:03pm
People will leave if you tell them in advance that, at the end of the happy hour, if they remain in the restaurant they should have dinner. As a customer, I would understand and accept the deal.

We were there waiting for 15 minutes and no one single table in the restaurant was occupied during that time. They may had dinner reservations but they were for later time for sure.

Perhaps it wasn't the manager's fault but the owner's. I don't know and, as a customer I shouldn't really care whose fault it is. I just know how uncomfortable the whole experience was for us, the people waiting on line and that's why we left.

My point is that you shouldn't let your customers leave your premises while you keep empty tables just in case...

If you don't like happy hour, then don't put it in your bar. We moved to another bar without happy hour and I was happy to pay the whole price for my drink and have the chance to talk to my friends in peace.

In any case, I understand your point as well.
thanks for your comment,


Comment by Paul Paz on January 20, 2009 at 8:53pm

Your analysis is logical but having worked in a similar environment (happy hour in the bar only) you may be jumping some conclusions.

Some of your opposition appears to be predicated on assumptions.

How do you know all the people in the bar for happy hour are going to leave at the moment the happy hour time period ends?

Did you know for a fact that there were no dinner reservations for the available dining room tables?

Is the manager really a moron? If the owner set the policy and the manager's job depended upon following them to the letter... that is just survival.

Altering the usual and customary practice of "bar only" happy hour has unexpected consequences.

I have often witnessed these exceptions made only to have guests take advantage of the situation. (The alcohol consumption does not usually lead to rational or diplomatic discussion either.)

Such as more of their party arrives later but there is no room in the bar, so they take additional dining room tables for the next 30-120 minutes (cuz they are having a good time).

Or new groups that show up 2-minutes before the end of the happy hour only to complain that you made an exception for that other party seated in the dinning room, why will you not do it for them.

As supplement to the discussion, here is the link to a recent article from the LA Times:
Bars and restaurants are getting toasted by happy hour
By Jerry Hirsch LA Times January 10, 2009,0,3884861.story?page=1

Happy hour is getting happier, and that's making restaurants sadder.

As the recession drags on, drinkers such as Luis Romero of Anaheim are gravitating to happy hour -- that late-afternoon period when bars and restaurants sell discounted drinks and food to attract customers during what otherwise would be a slow time.

Comment by Steve Paterson on January 20, 2009 at 4:25pm
One single experience like what you described....and I become a non-customer for life.
The manager is clearly a moron.




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