Casual-dining chains are hosting late-night live music events in an effort to attract diners and get them to stay later and spend more.
“Music and food have gone together for decades, and restaurants offer local musicians a venue and audience,” said Linda Duke, a local-store marketing expert and chief executive at Duke Marketing LLC. “Restaurant patrons enjoy the entertainment and typically stay longer and spend more.”
While using events as a marketing strategy is not new, it is an effective way to lure customers. Music events usually boost sales by as much 10-20 percent for the day, if promoted in advance Duke said.
And people tend to purchase more beverages, appetizers and desserts off late-night menus during those events, she added.
Nation’s Restaurant News spoke with executives at Hard Rock Cafe, Wild Wing Cafe and Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, which all use music and related events to draw big crowds — and sales — after 10 p.m.
Driving traffic and loyalty
At Orlando, Fla.-based Hard Rock Cafe’s 138 restaurants in 56 countries, music permeates the experience, said James Buell, director of music and marketing at the company.
“Honestly, with live music, I think everybody’s got a special affinity for a song or an artist or that place in time,” Buell said. “We want our guests in a place that becomes a distinct memory…the opportunity for driving sales and increasing loyalty is paramount.”
If you give customers a fun environment and good memories paired with good music and food, they will keep coming back for more, he said. “[Music] is an icebreaker to get guests to come in,” Buell said, adding that it can build loyalty over time.
The goal isn’t necessarily to drive loyalty in the short term, he noted, but to drive it for the long term. Concerts bring in the “elusive” 14-29 age group, Buell said, and hopefully, when those consumers get older they’ll remember the fun they had and return to the place where they had a great, and memorable, concert and dining experience. “It’s just a way to stay engaged with the guests,” he said.
At Mt. Pleasant, S.C.-based Wild Wing Cafe, music has always been part of the experience, said chief executive Bill Prather, chief executive at Wild Wing Cafe.
“It sets a whole new energy level, and it’s a daypart that our competitors don’t delve into as deeply,” Prather said. “There’s always some kind of entertainment going on at Wild Wing cafe,” including karaoke and live music.
Live music also helps Wild Wing Cafe appeal to millennials, he said, although age varies by band and music genre.
“We’re where great food rocks,” Prather said. “Music has been a part of our business since the beginning…it’s always played a part in our marketing strategy.”
At Wild Wing Cafe’s 33 restaurants, 40 percent of revenue comes from the bar, much of which is late-night sales, said spokesman Jamie Izaks in an email. When Wild Wing Cafe hosts live entertainment, late-night total sales increases by 20 percent, he said.
Boosting sales after hours
Orlando, Fla.-based Smokey Bones has experienced similar sales bumps during events. The chain began heavily marketing late-night deals about two years ago. Now, event-driven late-night sales are the fastest-growing aspect of the company, said chief executive Chris Artinian.
“It’s really about creating some fun after 10 o’clock and pairing it with great food and drinks,” he said.
“The daypart of late night for us is just continuing to get stronger and stronger,” said Roger Drake, senior vice president of marketing at Smokey Bones.
Trivia, DJs and karaoke are mainstays at many of Smokey Bones’ 66 locations, he said, with live concerts a secondary event stream. Although he couldn’t share specific sales numbers, Artinian said concerts and in-restaurant events “absolutely” increases traffic.
“We have seen positive comps grow every single month,” he said of the late-night program.
Late-night menus emphasize beer, appetizers
Appetizers and alcoholic beverages sell well during late night, Duke said, adding that it is important to create a targeted, consumer-friendly menu.
Hard Rock Cafe, Smokey Bones and Wild Wing Cafe all oblige consumers’ desires with late-night menus and drink specials. Tapas, snacks and beer reign supreme during later hours.
Although Smokey Bones’ full menu is available until closing time at 2 a.m., the chain also offers a late-night menu with $4, $5 and $6 appetizers alongside specialty beers and cocktails, Artinian said. Popular items include signature smoked chicken wings, kettle chips, and pulled pork sandwiches.
Smokey Bones is also testing a tapas menu, which is expected to resonate with the late-night crowd. “It’s really making sure that we keep the menu fresh and the events fresh and new,” Artinian said.
At Wild Wing Cafe, lighter fare sells well late, alongside a “fair amount of alcohol,” Prather said. “We have a bar menu available that’s mostly snack-type items. The full menu is also available.”
Hard Rock Cafe partners with beverage companies, such as Heineken, on some programs, like its Pinktober event, which supports breast cancer awareness, Buell said. Otherwise, it’s a lot of “appetizer-type stuff,” he said.
“We’ve experimented with a tapas-style menu,” Buell said. “It’s more of a beer focus.”