The 24/7 lifestyle has been creeping further and further into American cities over the course of this decade. People are out later more frequently, and many restaurants, especially in urban centers, are responding by catering to late night diners. If done right, the late night scene can energize your restaurant and your bottom line.
To be sure, late night dining isn’t right for every restaurant. Several factors must converge for an after-hours strategy to work for your establishment. First on the list, as usual, is location. Areas with high concentrations of young people (hip neighborhoods, college towns, etc.) are an obvious choice, but don’t discount proximity to entertainment venues for older couples as well.
If you decide your restaurant is well suited to start cashing in on the late night crowd, some additional work is going to be needed to ensure your success. Here’s three tips to help you get your late night shift started on the right foot:
Adjust menus. Obviously, you don’t need or want your kitchen running on full dinner rush steam. More importantly, the late night crowd isn’t going to want filets and big entrees. Experiment with fun finger foods and other creative items that are easily prepared, high margin, and easy to share.
Adjust atmosphere. You don’t have to make a big production out of it, but it is important to create an atmosphere that communicates “late night” rather than “dinnertime.” Some simple adjustments include rocking out the music a little more, brightening the lighting, and opening up the dining area to allow more of a party style gathering rather than secluded dining.
Adjust staff attitudes. Serving on the late night shift isn’t for everyone. Finding the right kind of person to complete your restaurant’s party vibe is essential to making the whole thing work. Getting that person is much easier if you relax dress codes and encourage a more laid-back atmosphere. You want to do that anyway to cater to the crowd you’ll be expecting, so it may make sense to change your expectations for late night servers.
Many restaurants who have recognized that their location affords them the unique opportunity to catch an after-hours crowd have taken advantage of this underserved segment, and the results have been very positive. If your location fits the bill, you’ve also got an opportunity to expand your customer base and the number of hours in a day your business makes money. And that’s never a bad thing.