By Naren Young, Beverage Director at Sweet Liberty in Miami. Follow Naren on Instagram at @forkandshaker
I’d never really thought much about ‘happy hour’ (HH) until I moved to America in 2006. In Australia, which of course has HH like almost every other place on earth with a strong drinking culture, I’d never plied my trade at a venue that used Happy Hours in their business model. To be blunt, most happy hour activations suck and most of them follow the same homogenous and boring formula of ‘free this’, ‘discounted that’, ‘2 for 1’, ‘complimentary snacks’ etc etc. Hardly inspiring marketing.
“To be blunt, most happy hour activations suck and most of them follow the same homogenous and boring formula of ‘free this’, ‘discounted that’, ‘2 for 1’, ‘complimentary snacks’ etc etc. Hardly inspiring marketing.”
What I saw from this when opening Dante in 2015 was an opportunity; an opportunity to create a better HH that was different, unique, thoughtful and highly curated. Not the same same crap that was being peddled in virtually every other bar in the neighbourhood. I’ve never been one to follow any trends or do what other bars are doing. Rather, how can we attract more guests to our bar at a time when we might otherwise be quiet? And how can we do this by implementing some drinks programming that might actually help shape the identity of the bar into the future?
This is how the now famous Negroni Sessions were born. Having an aperitivo concept housed in an old classic Italian café of course made this direction seem more obvious and appropriate but more importantly perhaps, no one else in New York could boast a full Negroni menu; one where each of the thirteen variations were only $9. At the time, it felt like something revelatory and something that had the potential to develop into something special, which it did, and the rest is history, so to speak.
The point here is to think about the concept of your own particular bar and identify what would be appropriate to offer for your own HH, if you indeed want to offer anything at all. If you have a bar that specializes in, say, American whiskey, then maybe a selection of classic bourbon and rye cocktails or some tasting flights of those spirits might make the most sense as opposed to offering something generic like ‘half price whiskey shots’.
“If you have a bar that specializes in, say, American whiskey, then maybe a selection of classic bourbon and rye cocktails or some tasting flights of those spirits might make the most sense as opposed to offering something generic like ‘half price whiskey shots’.”
At Sweet Liberty in Miami, where I now work, we have a strong following for our HH but with a slightly different, though very effective, philosophy. We list about five to six drink options per day (and cheap oysters) and the main focus is to try and find a balanced selection that includes a cross section of drink styles and spirit bases. That way, hopefully we can offer something for almost any palate. Right now, that selection has been fairly steady for a while, offering up a Bramble, Whiskey Smash, Siesta, a Spritz of sorts, a Daiquiri of the day and a watermelon/vodka highball.
While we are trying to be consistent with the HH menu and keeping it somewhat stable, there are a few notable reasons that we change up the selection that also works out well financially for the business. As examples, we might be given some free stock or product samples from various brands that when sold at retail prices translates into pure profit for the business and helps keep our overall cost of goods (COGS) down. A big win!
This same system can be used when we might have leftover donated stock or cocktail batches from an event, the latter of which might not be listed on our regular menu and might turn bad if not sold quickly. The solution? Rotate them through the daily HH menu. When I started at Sweet Liberty, the bar was holding inventory of over $90K, which is an insane amount for almost any bar, especially during a pandemic. I made it one of my first missions to reduce this significantly, ideally by at least 40%. Not an easy task but the most expeditious way to do this was again to move these random spirits through HH and it was shocking how quickly we were burning through this stock, which helped our bottom line in the process.
Because we’re only charging $9 per drink, I need to keep a close eye on the overall cost of the drink, especially the base spirit and ensure that we’re using products with a low margin. If a brand does want to find their way onto our HH menu (which is another great approach that I employ often if I don’t have space for them on our regular menu) and their product doesn’t fall into a target price we need, then they need to support in other ways to keep that COGS down and then everyone wins.