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By
Sarah Ward

9 Facets of Happy Hour: Definition and History of Happy Hour

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Webster's definition of the term happy hour is “a period of time during which the price of drinks (as at a bar) is reduced or hors d'oeuvres are served free.” While this definition holds true in many places, the question of what is happy hour has certainly moved beyond this definition. While a bar happy hour may fit this definition with reduced prices and deals-bar books can guide you here, many other types of establishments have created their own versions of what happy hour means. With Sonic happy hour, Taco Bell happy hour, and others, there’s a place for everyone to find their joy with happy hours and cocktail hours these days. 

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What is Happy Hour? What Time Is Happy Hour?

Happy hour typically starts at 4 p.m. or right around then. While the name would imply it only runs for an hour, a lot of places have expanded, sometimes ending around 7 p.m. or later. There’s a large market of customers who are more likely to stay and enjoy multiple appetizers and drinks if there’s a sale going on. A common question around happy hours is “why limit happy to an hour?” While it could be poor for profits in excess, a happy hour that lasts a few hours is great for businesses and customers. 

Happy Hour Origin

The phrase happy hour started around 1914 when the United States Navy would have a weekly “happy hour” for sailors. These original happy hours weren’t about drink deals and half-price apps. They were a way for Navy sailors to relieve the boredom of their postings. From dancing to boxing matches to movies, these first happy hours were all about entertainment. 

When Prohibition era came around with the 18th amendment in 1920 after World War 1, happy hour began to have drinking tied to its definition. For those who wanted to enjoy alcoholic drinks between work and home, time spent at a speakeasy or a private residence became the watering hole for happy hour. This definition carried into what we know today as happy hour, with drinks and social time taking place right after work. Now, happy hour is tied to every bar equipment layout, and if you're thinking of going to a bar after work, you'll be headed to happy hour.

Legal Happy Hour Aspects

As a bar owner, before you decide that happy hour is a good choice you’ll need to be sure what you can legally offer. Happy hour deals on alcohol are banned in:

  • Massachusetts
  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont

These states banned happy hour deals due to drunk driving incidents and other alcohol-fueled issues. That said, the strain on restaurants from COVID-19 has several of these states considering loosening their restrictions. While these changes likely won’t happen quickly, it’s worth keeping an eye on potentially changing rules. 

Who Has Happy Hour Right Now?

Even in those states where happy hour alcohol deals are banned, there are often some sorts of happy hour appetizer deals. Everywhere else, it’s common for bars and restaurants to offer BOGO drinks and apps, among other discounts. If you're looking for the best happy hours around you, you won't have to look very far. Historically happy hours included mainly alcoholic drinks. These days, you can find pretty much anything called the happy hour deal.

Are Happy Hours Only at the Bar?

It used to be that mainly bars would offer happy hour deals. These days, it’s across the board for restaurants, and not just fine dining spots. You don't have to learn how to make a cocktail with rum or all about types of rum, or how to offer wine sales to host a happy hour.

From Sonic happy hour to Taco Bell happy hour to IHOP happy hour, casual and fast food joints have started using the same deals. Whether that means tacos for a steal at Taco Bell or BOGO pancakes, happy hour isn’t just for bars anymore. 

Do Bars Have Happy Hours on Saturday?

These days, most places that offer happy hour deals only have those deals Monday through Friday. This sticks to the classic take on happy hour being a post-work wind-down. There are, however, some places that offer happy hour drink specials on the weekends. Often, these deals come with brunch offers, so while they’re not exactly happy hour they’re effectively the same deals. If you’re looking to score some deals on the weekend a Google search will show you nearby places for happy hour or brunch. If you’re a bar or restaurant owner, it’s worth looking into what deals you can offer on the weekends, not just during the week. 

Why Limit Happy to an Hour?

While many places these days have their happy hour timeline stretched beyond an hour, there are still lots of establishments that stick to tradition. While this can be a bother, there are definite benefits for customers and owners alike in keeping happy hour to an hour. 

For customers, having a set hour to be enjoying those deals will actually keep excessive spending down. The more time you have to purchase something on a deal, the more you’ll buy, and you’ll end up spending just as much as you would outside of the deal.

For sellers, that one-hour window means you can plan ahead for what to prepare for foods and drinks. You also don’t have to worry about pricing too many things at a lower rate. You’ll still make plenty of profit from happy hour customers, and they’ll be around when dinner time rolls in. Happy hour customers have the potential to become dinner customers too. 

What to Wear to Happy Hour

If you’re joining friends and family for happy hour, it’s a pretty casual affair. Short of wearing pajamas you can wear what you’d like to a happy hour get-together. If you’re going out for dinner after or heading to a show, you can let that dictate your clothing choices. If you’re just there for the happy hour deals, remember, you’re just hanging out at a bar with friends, it’s not a formal affair. 

What to Wear to Work Happy Hour

The other happy hour occasion you might be heading towards is a work happy hour. For the question of “what to wear to work happy hour” the answer lends itself towards slightly more formal wear. Odds are, you’ll be heading to happy hour right after work with your coworkers, so whatever you’re wearing to work will suit you perfectly. If you’re perhaps a WFH worker, or you’re running home first, something business casual - whatever that means for your workplace - is a safe bet.

What is Reverse Happy Hour?

A new sort of happy hour has come about in the last couple of years. Or at least, the name has only been passed around in the last five to seven years. This new happy time is known as a reverse happy hour, and it’s not limited to just right after work. Many bars and restaurants are offering happy hour deals from as early as 2 p.m. to closing time. This expanded happy hour is great for people who work flexible hours, or people who just want more of an available discount time. While it’s still catching on, reverse happy hours are a part of the future of a workforce that is more and more flexible.

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What is Happy Hour: Maximizing Happiness

Ultimately, the answer to what is happy hour is: it's a time when customers and owners can share in the delights of great deals. Whether it's two for $5 margaritas or the best restaurant appetizers (which fit the a la carte meaning), happy hour deals are a great deal for any bar or restaurant, any day. If happy hour deals aren't part of your bar operations manual, that's something you need to hop on before 4pm rolls around. For happy hour on holidays, consider Valentine's Day promotion ideas for restaurants.

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