I've traveled all over the country visiting lounges and while the mechanics are the same there are some things the best lounges do that set them apart from the crowd. The tips I'm sharing with you are things you can do today to increase your profits.
Presentation and Creating Value
First impressions of your hookah lounge will set up your customers expectations in regards to quality, price and value. We see so many hookah lounges that use plain white paper with a plain list of flavor names. The menu looks cheap and customers will want to pay cheap prices. Compare that to a lounge that has a laminated custom menu with flavor descriptions, proprietary blends with exotic names and clearly displayed upsells, like ice and fruit bowls. Customers are willing to pay up to 20% more when the environment is well themed. The percieved value goes up in their mind and they will even enjoy the product more. Look at these menus....who do you think can charge more for the exact same bowl of Lemon Mint shisha? I love this menu because it has tiered pricing for "Ultra Premium" shisha and upsells such as adding Ice or Fruit juice to the base water, using a real fruit bowl, and more. Not everyone has the artistic talent and equipment to do this, so we can help you. It's worth spending $50 on a fancy menu if you can add an additional $2-3 to the average sale. That could create hundreds of dollars per week of extra net profit.
Prep Station and Serving Size
Do you know exactly how many grams are going into one bowl at your lounge? One lounge with multiple locations uses a scale to measure every serving at 15 grams. This allows employees to easily duplicate the process every time for customers. With this method, you can calculate what one can of shisha will yield. At 15 grams a bowl that's 16 customers served say you charge $20 that's over $300 on every 250g can. It will also give you a better understanding of how much inventory you have on hand, and when you need to order.
Be clear with employees, that every shred of tobacco is valuable. Do not allow them to trash the spilled hookah tobacco. We see serving stations with 2-3 grams of spill over and waste with each bowl at so many hookah bars. That is killing your profit at the end of the month. Tobacco is the most expensive cost in our industry and money is literally being left on the table. Think about the fact that after every 3-4 bowls you sell, your employees throw another bowl in the trash. That trash bowl was 100% net profit you just lost! Some lounge owners have a "special flavor" that is the combined scraps from every bowl made. We had one in my lounge, and I called it "Sex Panther." No one could give out the recipe and customers liked the mystery of a flavor that is a "Top Secret House Blend."
If you are not using wind covers, you should open your wallet right now and throw $5 in the trash. It makes about as much sense. We highly recommend them and here is why. First, windcovers trap in more heat, so you can use less coal to get the same or more cloud output with your hookah session. Second, by keeping the airflow off the coals, they will last much longer, which saves you money in both materials and labor. Third, the cover will act a a natural deterrent for customers who feel the need to tinker with their own coals and burn themselves or your loune to the ground. Finally, the wind cover traps most of the ashes, so you will have a much cleaner lounge. If there is a reason not to use, please let us know, because these 4 distinct benefits make them worth their weight in gold!
There are a few different lines of thought about how to handle refill coals. Coals cost money and employees walking around to fill coals cost money. Most lounges offer new coals to customers as a free service, some charge a small fee. I recommend blending the two, the first refill of coals should be on the house. When your employees put on a second round of coals, they should let the customers know that the bowl will be "done" soon and use that opportunity to offer a refill bowl ($5-$15). Always phrase the refill as a choice of 2 flavors. For example: "Would you like a refill of our super clean, fresh Mint or a rich and juicy Strawberry Cream?" Don't give the customers and easy way to say "No" to a refill bowl by asking a "Yes-or-No" question. If they order the refill when you replace their coals, I recommend bringing out the second hookah right away, and let your customers have 2 hookahs until the coals die on the first pipe.
Lounge Squatters - You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here
Natural coconut hookah charcoals are the go-to for most every serious hookah smoker around the world. They impart very little flavor on your bowl, burn at a consistent heat, and offer the best hookah sessions around. It might seem like coconut coals can do no wrong, but we’ve pulled together a list of 5 things that you should definitely NOT do with your natural coals.
Okay we all have had the table of 6 smoking one hookah for 2 hours. We love all of our customers but what do you do on a Saturday night when the lounge is packed and you have money waiting at the door. Our business is all about turning as many hookahs over in an hour as possible and with finite seating you cannot afford people wasting your time. To avoid these situations have house rules plainly stated that limit 2-3 people to a hookah. This will avoid most of these problems, but what do you do with those extreme cases that just don't take the hint? One Lounge has their employees write down the start time for tables. This way employees can engage customer with upselling refill bowls and refilling coals on a set schedule. After 25 minutes the first set of coals are replaced. At 45 minutes, the customer is offered an up-sell refill bowl. If the customer declines, the check is brought out and every hookah is removed at an hour. The timer method keeps your employees on a routine and maximizes your hourly efficiency.
Another technique that is very useful can be a simple take away. Make sure your employees are comfortable checking on hookahs, and if they are burnt, have no flavor or taste like ashes, they should let the customers know the hookah is done and simply take the hookah to the cleaning station. Hookahs will continue to produce smoke long after the flavor has died, so most customers aren't sure when to stop or how long to stay. You don't want customers choking down a burnt hookah for an extra hour. That is not a premium experience. They need your help to know when they should order more flavors or end their session, so don't be afraid to step in as the experts to tell the customer their hookah is done.