Getting into the bar business is no easy feat. In addition to saturated markets and steep opening costs, it’s no wonder hospitality businesses struggle to find effective marketing strategies.
One restaurant marketing strategy with year-round appeal is the happy hour. If you’ve never heard of this before and you’re asking yourself, “What is happy hour?” Start with the basics, like “What time is happy hour?” and work your way up from there. Eventually you can even combine happy hour with National Cocktail Day. You can even mix up a great liquor bottle display to bring in crowds.
Once you’ve come up with a few happy hour concepts, you’ll be looking for which beverages to showcase. The happy hour drinks you select can make or break the appeal, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.
Keep reading to discover some of the best happy hour drinks every bar owner should be familiar with.
Happy Hour Cocktails
Cocktails are one of the best kinds of happy hour drinks. There are dozens of variations you can make, whether you want your staff to stick closely to recipes or allow some creative flexibility in your bartender job description.
Most cocktails are two or more alcoholic beverages mixed together. Popular cocktail recipes have additional cocktail ingredients, like syrups, fruit juices, cream, sugar, or bitters. Not familiar with bitters? Learn what are bitters here.
Here are some happy hour cocktails you can rely on:
- Greyhound. The classic greyhound is vodka or gin mixed with grapefruit juice. It’s a simple drink that’s easy to make and helps keep your cost percentage low. Great for people who love a fruity burst in their alcoholic beverage.
- Manhattan. This is another old-fashioned drink made with sweet vermouth, whiskey, and bitters. The whiskey can be any kind but is usually Tennessee or Canadian whiskey. Manhattans have sweet undertones from the vermouth and are balanced out with bitters.
- Amaretto sour. Amaretto sours (sometimes called whiskey sours) are one of the milder cocktails out there. You make them with Amaretto liqueur, lemon juice, syrup, maraschino cherries, and orange slices. Similar to the Greyhound, this drink offers an infusion of fruity flavor.
- Gin and tonic. The gin and tonic is one of the oldest and most well-loved cocktails. It’s one part gin and two parts tonic water or soda, and garnished with lime or rosemary. Gin and tonic is great as an afternoon pick-me-up or a refreshing drink in general, and should be on every spring cocktails list.
- Cranberry sparkling vodka. Offer your customers this tart, crisp drink at your next happy hour. Make it with a base of sparkling water or soda, one shot vodka, two shots cranberry juice, a splash of lime juice, some cranberries, and optional ice.
If keeping track of your inventory for a happy hour seems a bit overwhelming, you aren’t alone. That’s one reason we created BinWise, a complete bar inventory management system. BinWise includes BinScan, our high-capacity inventory scanning app that scans over 150 bottles per minute.
Our software simplifies purchasing from your suppliers, integrates with your point of sale (POS), scans bottles with a 99% accuracy rate, and much more. Schedule a demo today to see what BinWise can do for your business.
Wine Happy Hour
Though it’s not always prominent during happy hour, wine can be an excellent promotional beverage at your business. It all depends on what wines you have available and which foods they pair with, including the tannins in wine that give them distinct colors and flavors.
A great wine happy hour combines fantastic wines with relevant promotions. There are three types of wine that make good happy hour selections:
- Rosé. Rosé is refreshing and light, yet comes in so many different flavors. There are two broader types of rosé: semi-sweet and dry. Within those categories are flavors you’re likely familiar with, like grenache, sangiovese, blush rosé, and vin gris. Whether your guests are feeling a lighter rosé or fuller-bodied one, they’ll have plenty to choose from.
- Red wine. Including red wine in your happy hour menu is a smart call, especially if your establishment is high-end. There are dozens of reds with even more wine varietals that can attract impressive happy hour crowds. Red wines are stronger and sometimes spicier than their white and rosé counterparts. Offer your guests dishes that pair well with your available wines, like salty, tart, and creamy foods.
- White wine. You can never go wrong with white wine. Those new to drinking wine tend to prefer it for its greater breadth of flavor and higher sweetness. White wines can be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, and are great on their own or with meals. Include some riesling, chardonnay, garganega, or pinot blanc to offer guests variety.
Happy Hour Liquor
There are six basic liquor types: brandy, tequila, rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey. Having the right ones in your par stock is essential to a successful happy hour. High demand drinks, like margaritas, the old fashioned, and martinis depend on specific liquor ratios.
To keep your happy hour running smoothly, you should have several drink options ready to go. Here are some happy hour liquor recipes to keep your patrons coming back for more:
- Martini. The martini is one of the simplest, yet most popular types of drinks at a happy hour. Make one with one part vermouth, three parts vodka, some ice, and a lemon or olive garnish.
- Vodka tonic. Vodka tonics are similar to gin tonics, simply with different ingredients. These are made with half a cup of tonic water, one and half ounces of vodka, ice to mix, and a lemon or lime wedge to garnish.
- Moscow mule. The Moscow mule is one of the most popular liquor recipes of all time, and also counts as a cocktail. To make one, combine half a cup of ginger beer, one and a half ounces of vodka, half an ounce of lime juice, some ice, and garnish with lime.
- Aperol spritz. If you want to give your guests even more variety, include an aperol spritz. This is one of the drinks every bartender should know, and it often fits the aphrodisiac meaning if made correctly. The aperol spritz is prosecco, carbonated water, and bitters. The aperol spritz was invented in Italy and makes a refreshing afternoon or early evening drink.
Happy Hour Beer
Beer is a classic American beverage and that won’t be changing any time soon. On average, US adults drink about 28 gallons of beer per year, or a little less than one six pack per week.
Beer is definitely a beverage you want to make available during happy hour, once you’ve figured out the right beer price. Here are some happy hour beer variations to consider:
- Michelada. A Michelada is the Mexican beer version of a Bloody Mary. This selection involves Mexican lager, spices, lime juice, and salt. If your customers love a drink with some bite, they’ll love the Michelada, because it includes cayenne powder, Cholula hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Beer sangria. This is the same concept as wine, only with beer as the base liquid. Sangria is an alcoholic beverage mixed with fresh fruit, syrup, and sometimes frozen fruit. You can make beer sangria with a summer-style ale, fruit that complements the beer flavor, some fruit nectar, and Pisco Reservado. The latter completes the flavor profile of this beverage and makes it irresistible.
- Pub nog. Pub nog is exactly as it sounds--eggnog, but with beer! Most pub nog recipes are the same as the classic holiday beverage, but with a barley beer instead of brandy. Once you have the milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, toss in some nutmeg and cloves for the final touch. After your standard pour is figured out, this can be a profitable seasonal drink.
- Beer slushies. If summer happy hour is rolling around at your bar, look no further than beer slushies. This increasingly popular combination of slushy ice texture, beer, and fruit juice makes an unbeatable afternoon sip. First, fill the cup with crushed ice (small to medium bits work best). Second, always use wheat beers for this drink, which complements the other ingredients. Third, add some cherry liqueur, grenadine, and some cherries or limes to garnish. Now, your customers can kick back with the perfect summer drink.
- Lemon shandy. The lemon shandy is one of the simplest beverages you can make when it comes to pouring beer. All it takes is one part beer, one part lemonade, and a lemon wedge to garnish. Customers will love its refreshing taste whether they’re kicking back indoors or on the patio.
- Beer-garitas. Yep, you guessed it--this is a margarita, but with beer instead of tequila. Beergaritas are made with one cup of beer, two cups of water, one half cup tequila, one quarter cup sugar, some crushed ice, two cups of raspberries, and three tablespoons of lime juice. Put it all into a blender, mix it up, and enjoy.
Frequently Asked Questions About Happy Hour Drinks
Drink menu design takes some time, but it can be simpler if you know where to start. Every restaurant and bar should have a clear idea of which happy hour drinks they offer and when (this will help avoid the 86 meaning).
If you still have concerns about happy hour beverages, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at these commonly asked questions and our answers below:
What is a good happy hour drink?
A good happy hour drink can be any beverage customers love that a bar has in stock. Popular happy hour beverages include gin and tonics, margaritas, Greyhounds, martinis, and Cosmopolitans.
Happy hours also include drinks like rosé wine, summer shandies, and whiskey. To find out what works well at your establishment, offer several beverages and survey customers at the end of the month. Whichever drink most customers chose during happy hour is a smart call for the future.
Does happy hour mean drinks?
Yes--most often, happy hour refers to alcoholic beverages. Many bars and increasing numbers of restaurants offer a happy hour, typically between 4pm and 7pm.
That being said, happy hour can include coffee and tea, non-alcoholic beer, or any in-house specialty beverage. Happy hours also frequently include pop-up restaurants, one-time events, competitions, and workshops.
What do you drink during a cocktail hour?
Cocktails are the most popular drink during cocktail hours. This includes martinis, daiquiris, margaritas, the Old Fashioned, aperol spritzes, and Moscow Mules.
A cocktail hour is rarely limited strictly to cocktails, however. Wine, beer, whiskey, rum, and vodka are all examples of other beverages people drink at happy hours.
This Drink’s On Us
Whether you recently opened your bar or have been running it for several years, the value of a happy hour can’t be overstated. It keeps your establishment busy throughout the day, mitigates profit loss elsewhere, and shows patrons how hospitable you are.
This list of happy hour drinks can be a launchpad for your first happy hour--or your first one in months. Remember to experiment too and see what your customers like most. No two bars are alike, so your drinks menu should be as unique as your establishment!