On the Line / Menu + Food / What is Happy Hour?

What is Happy Hour?

Happy hour is a great way to bring in new customers and increase sales. Here's how to best optimize your restaurant's happy hour.

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Everyone loves happy hour: a time to decompress after a long workday, spend time with friends, and enjoy taking advantage of drink specials and eating delicious food. 

From a restaurant or bar operator’s perspective, happy hour means big crowds and an even bigger revenue boost. But where did happy hour come from? And how can you best optimize the happy hour menu at your restaurant to increase sales and delight your guests? Read on.


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What is happy hour?

Happy hour is a marketing strategy done by many restaurants and bars, where food and drinks are sold at reduced prices for a certain period of the day — usually a period of the day that’s slow and light on customers. Happy hour is a great way to bring in more customers, boost your sales, and build your community presence – turning your bar or restaurant into the go-to post-work hangout spot for those who work 9-5. 

And while happy hours today are ubiquitous, where did the term happy hour come from? Who invented happy hour, and how did it become as popular as it is today?

The history of happy hours stems from U.S. Naval ships in the 1920s: sailors coined the phrase to describe their time of fun and relaxation post workday. During prohibition, the phrase was picked up by the American public and was often used to describe outlawed get-togethers. After that, the term stuck, and now, you’ll be able to find happy hours in most restaurants and bars in the U.S. 

When is happy hour?

While there isn’t one set time, typically, happy hour is between 4 - 8 PM, Mondays through Fridays. This fills the time before dinner where a restaurant might have a lull in activity, and also conveniently lines up with the time when most people are leaving work for the day. 

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How Long is Happy Hour?

Happy hour can last anywhere from one hour, up to an entire evening. Some restaurants do happy hours every night for a few hours, while others dedicate a night, like “thirsty Thursday”, to discounted drinks and appetizers. 

How to Have a Successful Happy Hour

Here are a few ways to make sure your restaurant or bar’s happy hour is as successful (and profitable!) as possible. 

Push Snacks and Appetizers

Appetizers and alcohol go hand-in-hand, and while drinks are popular, deals on food are also a great way to bring in new customers and increase sales. These can be specials that are only available during that specific time, or they can be the appetizers on your menu that are quick, easy, and inexpensive to make. Think about menu engineering here - your most profitable and most popular items, called Stars, are the best ones to push.    

Discount Well Drinks Only

You want to make sure that you’re not eating into your profits too much, so try only discounting well drinks. If you need a refresher, a well drink uses the “house brand” liquor (or the cheapest option.) These drinks are usually the most popular, and inexpensive to make, so the goal is to sell at a high volume, and low cost. 

Partner with a Liquor Company

Partnerships and sponsorships are a great way to promote your happy hour. For example, if you have an awesome beer company in your area, attract new customers by teaming up with them for a special happy hour, where you only discount that one brand or drink — and provide lots of great snacks to go with it. 

Keep Your Customers Happy

When planned correctly, happy hours can be a great way to increase sales and build customer loyalty. Check out this post for some more ways to optimize your menu, and start boosting your bar sales immediately.

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