Every restaurant has its rhythms, the down times and the rushes of each day.

But as restaurants begin to reopen and welcome guests back with the lifting of stay-at-home orders nationwide, restaurateurs are looking for ways to spread traffic throughout the entire day.

Some times of day, like 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, will be reliably busy, especially on the weekends, but the challenge is finding ways to increase traffic in the afternoon and on weeknights. Here are five strategies to increase sales in those off hours.

Have a Killer Happy Hour

One of the most common mistakes I see restaurant owners making is having a happy hour that’s too long, too vague, or just not happy enough. The whole point of happy hour is to bring customers to the table (or the bar) who would not otherwise be there. If your happy hour is from noon to 8 pm (Don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen!), it’s too long. If you’re trying to bump up traffic before the usual dinner rush, consider setting hours from 3:00 or 4:00 to 6:00, no longer.

Work with your cooks and bar staff to create specials that entice guests to come out. These specials should be unique to your menu but still relatively easy to execute so that you don’t overly burden cooks who are busy prepping their stations for the dinner rush. Consider adding live entertainment or trivia for happy hour. Experiment with a few different ideas to see what works best for your brand, and then commit to that for a set amount of time (say 3-6 months) so that you can really track the results.

You want happy hour details that guests can memorize easily, so come up with one simple sentence that describes your happy hour deals: 4:00 to 6:00 pm, Monday through Thursday, ½ off burgers, oysters, and sparkling wine, plus fun daily cocktail specials. That’s simple enough for someone to text a friend as they’re leaving work.

5 Ways to Generate Sales During Off HoursHost Private Events

Open your space to groups who may have midday and mid-week meetings. Create a one-page marketing piece with clear rates and policies for booking, and designate specific staff to handle booking so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of reservations. Bundle the space with food items that can be made easily and/or in advance so you don’t conflict too much with other service or prep work that’s being done. Let your existing customers and any friends in the press know about these offerings and promote them often on social media and in newsletters.

Schedule Specials By Day

Create specials that fall on certain days of the week, and then share that calendar with your audience. It could be as simple as “Taco Tuesday,” or “Kids Free on Thursday,” or it could be even more creative and unique. Just keep it on-brand, tie in a discount, and keep the messaging consistent as you share the schedule with your guests, followers, and friends in the press.

Make it Exclusive

Create a menu that is only available during off hours. It could be something like a “midday snack” or an “after school special.” These can be simple, even prepackaged, items that customers can nibble on while they drink at the bar or order to-go. You may want to consider catering to kids’ and marketing to parents or coming up with some fun late-night snacks and marketing them to other industry professionals or college students. Create a buzz around this menu and drive it home with the idea that you can only get it at specific times of day.

Reward Loyalty and Referrals

Establish a loyalty program that rewards guests for repeat visits and purchases, and incentivize guests to bring their friends and family who have never been to your restaurant before. If you use a loyalty card, for example, offer two stamps per purchase during slower times of day. When your servers approach a table, have them ask if the guests have visited your restaurant before. If they haven’t, consider sending out a gratis item--an app or dessert--as a way of saying, “thank you for trying us!”

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