Pie Happy Hour: The Art Of Business Innovation

He answered “2,000.”  I said, “You have got to be kidding. You made and sold 2,000 pies over the Thanksgiving holiday?”

John Kemper, owner of Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, went on to tell me that this is the second busiest week of the year. A close second to spring break where people come from near and far to eat some of the best homestyle cooking in America. But the Blue Bonnet has a national reputation for its pies, many with meringue as high as a Texas beehive hairdo.

Hey, but don’t take my word for it.

Established in 1929, the Blue Bonnet has consistently great reviews. Their amazingly delicious meals and pies have been featured in Travel and Leisure, Southern Living, and the sadly defunct Gourmet magazine.

In the usually tough-to-run restaurant industry, John, and his wife Belinda, know their market and their numbers. If you have ever watched Restaurant Impossible, the very popular Food Network reality TV show, you will usually find that the owners have almost no clue about the costs of their goods, the numbers sold and their inventory.

On the contrary, the Blue Bonnet understands its business with laser-focused accuracy. For example every month, they use 26,000 eggs, 4,800 pounds of flour, 480 quarts of whipping cream for pies, 1,600 pounds of bacon, and serve up 94,800 cups of coffee to get you going. They serve up 2,200 meals on any given Saturday.

However, this popular restaurant recently realized they had a problem. They had a very slow time of day and had never been able to solve that slump between 3 and 5 p.m. The staff was there, the lights were on, but only a few customers visited in the downtime between lunch and dinner.

So, John and Belinda did what any Texan worth their salt would do. They mixed up a pitcher of margaritas and headed for the hot tub. It was then and there that “Pie Happy Hour” was born. From 3-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can buy a piece of pie and get a free drink of your choice. John says, “Sometimes you do your best thinking in a hot tub.”

Being a lifetime marketer this just screams for an adaptation of the classic four ‘P’s of Marketing, adding a fifth P. Here you go:

1. Product: Your product must stand out from the crowd. Go find a piece of pie better than John’s and I will eat my hat.

2. Price: You must be competitive but still make a profit. With the volume of coffee purchased and sold at The Blue Bonnet, I doubt a few free cups of coffee on the house hit their bottom line.

3. Place: The Blue Bonnet is located on one of the heaviest traveled highways in the Texas Hill Country. You cannot miss it and they have added more and more parking through the years, so there is always a safe, convenient place to park. No circling the block.

4. Promotion: They simply made a sign and hung it to the side of the cafe. “Pie Happy Hour, 3-5 p.m.” It’s inexpensive but highly effective. From there, the Pie Happy Hour took off in no time through word of mouth.

5. People: For 84 years, the Blue Bonnet has built strong and engaging relationships with their customers. John has owned the restaurant since 1981 and you will still find him at the cash register today with a thank you and a smile on his face. He also knows that happy employees make happy customers. Many people on his staff have been there for decades.

The other morning, as I carried out my favorite peanut butter pie, I had to laugh. If I had only gone by at 3, I would have had a free glass of home-brewed iced tea to wash it down.

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