This post was last updated on Jul 23, 2020.
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Restaurant people work hard every shift to make their guests feel like royalty. But where can a restaurant worker go to get treated like royalty themselves, especially when they usually spend every weekend at work?
Usually held on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, industry nights (or brunches) give restaurant workers a chance to dine out themselves, often with the incentive of significant drink or food deals. It’s a chance for them to let go of the stress of a Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday work week, and a way for them to meet other restaurant people.
From a restaurant’s perspective, throwing a service industry event is a great way to bring in customers — and revenue — on a traditionally slow day. The fact that Mondays and Tuesdays are typically so slow also means that you can discount heavily and still be making more than you normally would that day of the week.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge, in Somerville, Massachusetts, is known far and wide for their industry brunch every Monday from 12pm-4pm. They give restaurant workers the opportunity to sleep in and recover from a tough weekend of work, and then amble over to Trina’s for brunch — and because it's so unique and so much fun, Monday brunch has become one of their busiest services of the week.
“We started Monday ‘Industry’ Brunch in the spring of 2010,” said Beau Sturm, co-owner of Trina’s. “The thought was that most restaurant and bar folk had Mondays off so it would be nice to pay brunch forward, since it’s a notoriously no-fun shift to work; we’d give a brunch to the people who have to work brunch and can never enjoy it.
“So we thought we’d open later (what industry kid doesn’t sleep in on their days off?), play fun music a little too loud, [put] cartoons on the TV and have kitschy, fun food and drinks. We just wanted to have fun with our industry friends for a few hours,” he said.
At first, he didn’t know that the industry brunch would be such a hit. “We figured that if we had a few dozen of our friends come in, it would be worth being open. We didn’t set the bar too high. Lo and behold, it contends weekly for our busiest meal period! It has exceeded every expectation by a mile,” said Sturm.
Over in Washington D.C., Mayahuel Cocina Mexicana hosts an industry night every Monday, where they provide free bar bites (for those seated at the bar), as well as happy hour specials for the whole night. “We started industry night to bring restaurant employees together,” said Cesar Varela, an operations consultant for the restaurant.
He added that the 75% turnover rate seen in the restaurant industry means that it’s easy for restaurant workers to lose touch with old coworkers when they head to a new workplace. “The restaurant community is fairly small, and staff change jobs fairly often. [It’s] a day to get together to help the industry community stay in touch with each other.”
If you’re looking for a way to bring in extra revenue on slow days and give back to your community at the same time, an industry night is the answer.
Here are eight ways to make sure your industry night is a success week after week.
Give Back to the Community
Occasionally, the Monday industry brunch at Trina’s Starlite Lounge becomes Drag Brunch — because why should restaurant people be deprived of the combined joy of brunch and drag queens? And if that wasn’t enough, they also use this brunch to give back to the community at large.
“We’ve been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for LGBTQ charities with our semi-annual Monday Drag Brunch, which we’re incredibly proud of,” said co-owner Beau Sturm.
Most recently, they offered a free drink ticket to all guests who bring an old winter coat to be donated to homeless LGBTQ youth.
Give a Great Discount
Whether you offer 50% off a certain beer, 30% off all food, or 20% off an entire bill, you’ll be able to attract restaurant people with great discounts. Be sure to listen to your restaurant friends and offer what they like on industry nights. If they love Fernet, offer a special on Fernet. If it's Bloody Marys they're after, develop the best Bloody Mary recipe you can, and discount it on industry night.
For example, Tropics Ale House in Waikiki, Hawaii gives service industry workers 50% off on liquor and pizza on Sunday nights, plus 25% off draft beers. They stay open until 2am, too, which is an added benefit for restaurant people who want to go out but find that places close early on Sundays and weekdays.
Try Out Your Specials (and Show Off Your Culture)
Part of the appeal of industry nights is for restaurant workers to check out how other restaurants do things. If you’ve got a new special that you’re proud of, or want to try out a new cocktail, an audience of restaurant people will be honest and let you know what’s good — and what isn’t.
Industry nights are also an opportunity to show off what it’s like to work at your restaurant. Restaurant people will be able to tell in no time if your front-of-house staff are happy in their jobs, and if they get a sense that your restaurant treats its workers well, you just might attract some great new candidates.
Find a Sponsor
If you’re worried about the cost of discounting, find a sponsor to help sweeten the deal. Liquor companies are a great option for this: The J. Parker in Chicago, Illinois runs an industry night, and they partner with Don Julio tequila and Ketel One vodka to be able to provide steep discounts on both from 11 to 4pm — with an added 10% discount for restaurant industry people.
Ask for Proof of Restaurant Work
Many restaurants ask for a pay stub, an ID card, or another way to identify whether or not a guest works in the industry. Especially if you’re offering a big discount on a whole bill, it makes sense to check that every guest who gets the discount actually works in the industry.
Let them Sing — or Do Stand Up
Another way to attract restaurant workers to your industry night is to add a form of entertainment that’s usually reserved for rowdy weekend nights out: karaoke.
In Atlanta, Georgia, a dive bar called The Local hosts karaoke on Mondays for industry people who want to sing away the stress of working all weekend. They also happen to have house-smoked wings that have developed a cult following. The Local even has their karaoke catalogue online so guests can prepare their killer number ahead of time — and cheap drinks to help guests make it onto the stage.
For industry workers who want to get some jokes off their chest, there’s The Hideaway, a gay bar (also in Atlanta) that hosts a comedy open mic night on Mondays, with food and drink specials as well.
Compensate Your Industry Night Workers
To run an industry night, you’ll need staff to work it. For obvious reasons, industry people are generally amazing tippers, which bodes really well for your front-of house staff. However, you’ve also got to make sure your back-of-house staff is feeling the love as well.
Whether it’s in the form of a “buy the kitchen a six-pack” menu item, like they have at The Quiet Few in Boston, or a back-of-house profit-sharing program like they have at SuViche Hospitality Group in Miami, make sure your back-of-house staff feel the boost of working a super-busy Monday after a long weekend of working just as hard.
Spread the Word
Once you’ve got your specials planned and entertainment secured, you have to make sure that industry people know about your industry night. While some industry nights rely exclusively on word of mouth, it's a good idea to use all forms of social media to advertise your industry night specials, and even consider posting flyers around your community.