Friday, October 28, 2011

Raising a glass to Happy Hours

If you doubt the Happy Hour is making a comeback, consider the sales elixirs two heavy-pouring restaurant chains are currently sucking down.

The pair acknowledged this month that they’d uncorked what’s again becoming the most common sales lubricant in casual dining. Brinker International was the more recent to join the likes of P.F. Chang’s and Cheesecake Factory, announcing Wednesday that its Chili’s chain was rolling a “full-blown Happy Hour program,” in the words of CEO Doug Brooks.

Speaking to investors, Brooks was sketchy on details. But he divulged that the lures for the post-work crowd would include sangria, an upgraded version of Chili’s signature margaritas, and new food offerings at the bar.

He described the push for evening guests as one of Chili’s “very big initiatives” for rebounding from the Great Recession, which walloped all of casual dining. The rollout is right up there in strategic importance with the redesign of the concept and the changeover to more efficient kitchens, he stressed.

The financial analysts listening to Brooks refused to let his tease pass without amplification. Pressed a bit, Brooks described the new program as a natural outgrowth of Chili’s re-imaging, which extends to such bar enhancements as the installation of better flat screen TVs. He also spoke cryptically about changes that put the bartender in a position to field more drink orders.

But Brooks rebuffed requests for any sales info from the program’s market tests, which he characterized as having just concluded.

Three weeks earlier, Ruby Tuesday provided a few details about its Happy Hour program, which is already in place at the diversified company’s namesake chain (Ruby Tuesday now has more brands in its portfolio than some of the bigger private-equity firms.) CEO Sandy Beall noted that the draws include half-price appetizers and $2 tacos and sliders.

“The investments we've made in our beverage lineup and bar program should help us reach our long-term goal of increasing alcohol sales to 12% of revenue,” Beall said in Ruby’s conference call with investors.

Looks as if Ruby Tuesday is going to have a lot more competition in getting there.

No comments: