In this industry, it’s no secret that there are ups and downs—high highs and low lows. That disparity reveals itself especially clearly on nights when restaurants are typically buzzing (Thursdays through the weekend) and nights when they’re as dead as the fish of the day. We reached out a number of restaurants and restaurant industry experts for their insights on how to turn off nights on.
Make them special
Foundation Social Eatery, an American restaurant just north of Atlanta in Roswell, Georgia, recently launched Vinyl Tuesdays, a weekly music-focused series created to stimulate customer engagement on a typically slow night for the restaurant. Guests are invited to spin records of their choice from music buff and chef/owner Mel Toledo’s personal collection that includes Muddy Waters, The Cure, Blondie and Tame Impala, to name a few, or bring in their own. Toledo finds that giving patrons control over their dining soundtrack is a solid way to draw them in on nights they’d otherwise be home ordering takeout and Netflixing.
“Themed trivia is a huge draw for young professionals on slow Tuesday nights.” -Mischaela Elkins
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Commonwealth Restaurant kicks off their week with a Monday Night Fried Chicken special. The gut-busting special, which is only available on Monday evenings, serves up brined-then-cornmeal crusted-and-fried boneless chicken legs on a black pepper brioche roll with poblano-mango relish and and chipotle aioli—and paired with a Miller High Life. Says Commonwealth GM Phil Marshall, “This is the first time we have tried anything to get more customers in on Monday. … We have seen an increase in the number of people coming in. Our chef de cuisine, Nicco Muratore, has a large social media presence and has gotten a younger crowd interested in the promotion because it’s generally not just a fried chicken, there is something interesting about it to pique young, informed diners.” As a result, he says they’ve seen a rough increase of about 20 more patrons coming in on a typical Monday evening, and the kitchen puts out between 30 and 40 fried chicken specials each week.
Across the river in Boston, at trendy South End hotspot Bar Mezzana, chef/partner Colin Lynch is serving up his own Monday night chicken special: The Chicken ParMezzana!, a special he started running in August. Says Lynch, “We wanted to increase bar sales on an otherwise slow night, and to introduce an inexpensive and unpretentious special. One of our cooks came up with the name and it stuck.” The special is first come, first served and, though it’s still relatively new, Lynch says they sell out most every night—and have been increasing their output. “Our first night we just sold out at the end of the night with 18 sandwiches. We have been increasing by a few each Monday since then, and are selling out by the middle of the night,” he says. “It has definitely driven an increase in bar business on Monday nights. It’s a great deal for the neighborhood.”
Also in Boston, The Gallows has tailored their off-night special to the tastes of the collegiate town’s coeds with Brinner, a savory brunch menu served every Monday evening, which they launched in the doldrums of this past winter. Their main Brinner customers tend to be young, mostly college students, says GM Elena Todisco, but the menu—with dishes like “sunrise” poutine and corned beef hash—appeals to everyone. “The thought of Brinner started because, when you were little—especially for me—your parents would always make you, like, breakfast sandwiches on Mondays,” says Todisco. “It’s like, What do we have? It’s the start of the week, everyone’s exhausted from the weekend. Business has definitely been a little elevated, because it’s something different that not everyone does on Mondays.” And while the Brinner menu changes often, Todisco says their most popular item is consistently one of the simplest—a brunch burger topped with a sunny-side up egg. Brunch for dinner isn’t the only way Gallows flips off nights on their heads and draws in customers: Todisco also cites other one-off special events, like a pig roast they threw in partnership with a beer sponsor.
Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, Marlene’s at Sevastopol Station closes on Mondays, since owner Kim Carson has found that Monday nights are so slow it’s not worth opening the kitchen. However, starting on Tuesdays, her second slowest night (and essentially, her Monday) and running through Thursdays, she offers a promotion for guests who post a photo of their meal on social media and tag Marlene’s. Participants get $10 off their bill, so everyone wins.
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Take their advice…
Jon Baumgartener, GM of San Antonio restaurant Biga on the Banks, a bustling spot on Texas’s San Antonio River Walk, offers some pro-tips:
- KNOW THYSELF: “I think the biggest point is to know when you’ll be slow. For us, we know summer will be slow, so wine specials on social media is our go-to magnet for locals. It’s an evergreen way to get our local client base in the door.”
- BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS: “Biga is in the heart of downtown, so we try to take advantage of the year-round art and entertainment events that are happening around us. Many of those happen on weeknights, so we sometimes go with theme menus around those shows. When Jerry Seinfeld came to town we renamed things on our menu to make references to the show. We had Elaine’s Big Salad and Soup Nazi’s Bisque. We also did a Lion King kids’ menu where kids would order things like Pumba’s Steak and a dessert called Bugs on a Log. Then we sent the kids to the show with a bag of Lion Kibble, a sweet and crunchy snack mixture to eat at intermission.”
- BEWARE THE COUPON: “One thing we regret trying is [daily deal promotions]. They have a good following, but those followers typically only go to restaurants that have deals and rarely become regular customers. They’re more loyal to [the deal sites] than they are to the restaurants they try.”
‘Summer will be slow, so wine specials on social media is our go-to magnet for locals.’- Jon Baumgartener GM of Biga on the Banks
Mischaela Elkins, chief empathy officer and lead growth hacker at Minivest, a Chicago-based growth strategy firm for businesses and organizations, offered up some practical suggestions, from a business growth strategy perspective:
“Themed trivia is a huge draw for young professionals on slow Tuesday nights. If you are a great host, the event might just be a recurring one.”
- CHARITY EVENTS
“Reach out to local charities or even local branches of national ones about a charity fundraiser. They can take 25 percent of the check for their cause—you get a restaurant full of positive and caring, not to mention hungry, patrons.”
- HOST WATCHING EVENTS
“Pick a TV show or series, it could even be on Netflix, and host a viewing night in your space. Offer themed apps and cocktails to keep the theme tangible.”