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15 Profitable (and Fun) Happy Hour Ideas for Your Bar

Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents
Bar inventory software

Is having a happy hour worth it? The answer is a resounding yes.

A 2017 study shows that, over the course of a month, bars with happy hours had 33% more transactions than bars without happy hours. They also saw made 26% more in revenue from their most popular cocktails during happy hour. It doesn’t matter if your bar is big or small, having a happy hour can make your bar more profitable.

That's why we came up with these 15 cool happy hour ideas. Some are happy hour drink ideas, some are happy hour event ideas, and some are happy hour marketing ideas. But they'll all turn your happy hour into a profitable one.

And that's just what a good bar manager does: grow popular, profitable happy hours. Using these ideas is one of the best ways to increase restaurant sales.

Why Do Bars Have Happy Hour?

Happy hours are a marketing strategy that bars use during the low-sales transition between two high-sales periods: lunch and dinner. The goal is first to increase traffic into the bar and gain new customers and second to boost sales. It is a common and valuable LTO (see LTO meaning). And it's a big part of how to improve customer satisfaction in restaurants.

What Are Typical Happy Hour Times?

Happy hours typically start around 4 p.m. and end around 7 p.m.

How Can I Increase My Happy Hour Sales?

There are three primary ways to increase traffic and sales during happy hour: happy hour drink, restaurant marketing ideas, and event ideas.

If you’re not running a happy hour, you’re missing a huge opportunity. But getting people in your bar for happy hour can be tricky. Read on for 15 cool happy hour ideas for bars that will help you generate buzz and grow your bottom line. Happy hour is also a great time to try and upsell.

Happy Hour Event Ideas

Host a Bob Ross Painting Night

This one’s weirdly specific, but hear us out. It’s a great happy hour event idea. Turn on a TV and queue up a Bob Ross episode. Set up an easel and canvas. Walk around the bar and have everyone who wants to participate write their name on a slip of paper. Put the slips of paper in a hat. Or a jar. A hat has a better vibe, is all.

Pull a name and have that person paint along with the Bob Ross episode. The canvas can face the crowd in the bar so they can watch the hilarity in real time. Or the canvas can be obscured so, at the end of the episode, there’s a reveal. Either way, it’ll be a riot.

Host a Paint-and-Sip aka Wine & Painting Night

For a happy hour event idea that’s more than just one hat- or jar-chosen participant, try your hand at a full-on paint-and-sip night. Buy a pack of cotton paper for watercolor painting. Hand everyone a few brushes, a glass of water (to clean the brushes in), and a small palette of watercolor paint. Using watercolors on cotton paper alleviates the higher overhead expenses of canvas and acrylic or oil paint. Then put on a watercolor painting tutorial on youtube and let everyone go nuts.

Let’s do the math on this if you do it once a week, assuming 30 people participate. 30 sheets of cotton paper is about $3/week. You’ll also need a one-time investment of brushes, of which a cheap pack can cost about $4.30. Given 30 participants, that’s $120 on brushes. A palette of 8 watercolor paints is about $2, so that’s another $60 and will last months. All told, you’ll need around $180 to get up and running, and about $5/week to sustain it.

But that paint night brings in 10 people who would have otherwise not come to your bar. If they buy 2 drinks at $5 each, that’s $100 more in sales your first night. And that’s a conservative estimate. You can even push a lot of your wine from bottles you've opened for your wine by the glass program. The next paint-and-sip night, you’ll have recouped your up-front costs and will make money. Sky’s the limit from there. This is a great way to boost your wine profits.

Video Game Challenge

This one hinges on having a TV. Set up a video game, something simple like Mario. If someone beats a level without dying, they get a free drink. This is not only fun for the gamer, but for the crowd who cheers on the gamer. People love paying attention to the same thing and reacting to it as a group. Just look at sports!

A video game challenge is especially fun thing to witness when the video gamer is bad at video games. And if they’re especially bad, they should probably get a free drink anyway. For trying.

Team Up with a Local Brewery

Both a happy hour drink and marketing idea, you can host a “Meet the Brewmaster” event. Invite a local brewer to come in and talk about their beer, and offer the brewery’s beer at a discount. Associating a face with the beer will personalize the brew. Coupled with lower drink pricing, people will be compelled to buy. Also, how can someone not buy a beer if the person who made it is standing right in front of them? They’d have to have ice in their veins!

Host a Pop-Up Restaurant

Similar to the above idea, but you’ll team up with a local restaurant. Invite them to come in and set up a mobile kitchen or catering table. Then let them serve happy hour bites for a few hours while your bar runs a few reasonable discounts.

ebook to boost bar profit margin

Happy Hour Marketing Ideas

Late Night Happy Hour

Weeknights from 5 to 7 p.m. isn’t the only time bars are actively trying to boost traffic. It’s the same story weeknights after 10 p.m. Late night happy hours are about trying to get people to stay in your bar, not show up in the first place. Have specials that reflect that. People who have already been drinking tend to relax into cheaper, easier drinks as time goes on. Drop domestic draft beer pricing and the house wine bottle price. And if you have some greasy appetizers, make it half price in the name of sobering up.

Themed Happy Hours

A themed happy hour is cool because it encourages active participation from guests. Wear an eye-patch and get an extra discounts at the pirate-themed happy hour. Wear a Hawaiian shirt and get extra discounts at the tropical-themed happy hour. And so on!

You can also make use of your sitting inventory, or dead stock, and theme a happy hour around a type of alcohol. If you have a bunch of gin sitting around not selling, have a gin night.

Flip a Coin Night

Imagine this happy hour idea for a bar: guests may or may not get a discount. Set the eligible items, like domestic drafts, house wine, well drinks, etc. When someone orders one, they flip a coin. Heads it’s half off, tails it’s not. It’s fun for people to low-stakes gamble, and you’re only discounting half your stuff.

If you serve food, you can take this to another level. At the end of the night, if a guest or table has ordered happy hour food, they can flip a coin to get it all for free. They'll be ordering food thinking there's a chance they get it for free, so they'll likely order more. And if they're ordering more food, they're sticking around longer, and they're drinking more.

Music-Based Theme

Offer this for happy hour: $3 domestic drafts, $4 house wines, and bad vibes.

Wait, bad vibes?

Ah, you see, it’s all a part of your Angry Happy Hour. You play punk or metal music for 2 hours while selling discounted alcohol.

Try it for other kinds of music, too. Like a sad happy hours for blues.

Increase Your Prices

Increase? Yes! There will be some people who aren’t at your bar for happy hour. They’re just at your bar. They came to drink a margarita, and nothing will stop them.

Happy hour isn’t necessarily meant to make money, it’s meant to make return customers. If you find that your pour cost is a little high during happy hour because of pricing (see pour cost calculator), increase the price of non-happy hour best-sellers and increase your profit margin.

Happy Hour Drink Ideas

Before we get into happy hour drink ideas, we wanna clear something up. Using a QR code for a restaurant menu or happy hour menu makes it easier than ever to have a constantly updating happy hour menu with no additional cost for printing new menus on a regular basis. That makes it easy to try new ideas and find the ones that hit. Use menu engineering to offer only the most popular and profitably drinks during happy hour.

A Drink, a Shot, and Nuts

If you think about it, a drink, a shot, and nuts has everything. Here’s how it goes: you take the shot, chase it with a swig of beer, then you eat some nuts. Appetite sated by shot and swig, you settle into a leisurely cadence of sipping and crunching until your beer and nuts are no more. Extra points if this special is $5. Extra extra points if the nuts are spiced in-house.

Whiskey Shot with a Pickle-back

This happy hour drink idea involves a pickle-back! That’s a shot of pickle juice taken after a shot of something else. Chasing liquor with pickle juice is fun and delicious. Lots of people still think it’s a really weird thing to do, but the vinegar in pickle juice is arguably the perfect chaser. Give everyone a chance to experience the magic and price whiskey shots $2 cheaper if they’re ordered with a pickle-back.

An Exclusive Batch Drink for Happy Hour

This happy hour drink idea employs the scarcity principle. Offer a drink that you’ll take off the menu (leveraging the scarcity principle works on all types of menu) after happy hour. Something you can make in a batch with a low pour cost: sangria or punch. Make it a seasonal drink, like one of our profitable and easy winter cocktails, spring cocktails, summer cocktails, or fall cocktails, to make it extra irresistible. Extra points if you can use some liquor that's nearing its expiry date and is about to go bad (it takes a long time for liquor to go bad, but it happens).

If you’re worried about inventory tracking issues when combining drinks into batches, don’t be. A liquor inventory software  like BinWise Pro makes it easy to track individual ingredients being sold together as a batch.

Infuse Your Own Liquor

Infused liquor is another happy hour drink idea that can be exclusive to your happy hour menu. It’s easy to do, because infusing liquor is mostly about waiting. You put something in the liquor, make sure it’s sealed up airtight, then wait. This is also cool because it lets your bartenders flex their mixology muscles, one of the most valuable bartender duties.

During happy hour, you can offer drinks with your house-infused strawberry vodka, for example. Combine a few handles of vodka with strawberries, seal it, and let it rest for a week in an airtight container. Strain and voilà.

This can start as a drink only offered during happy hour. But it may prove to be popular enough to put on the drink menu permanently.

Beverage inventory management software

Tasting Flights

Discounted tasting flights wine, liquor, or beer are another great happy hour menu idea. Tasting flights are typically associated with high-end drinks, but that shouldn’t stop you. If you don’t serve craft beer, get a little cheeky and serve a tasting flight of your domestic draft beers. If someone can guess the beers, they get a free drink.

Some people wonder, "are bars profitable?" They sure are if you lean into creative happy hour ideas. Right there, you got 15 happy hour ideas to increase your bar’s profitability and offset your cost of goods sold and prime cost. We even cooked up a list of clever bar promotion ideas and restaurant SEO tips if you need even more inspiration.

But wait, there’s a secret 16th profit-boosting tip.

It's using bar inventory software like BinWise Pro. Book a demo and let us walk you through exactly how BinWise turns liquor and bar inventory from a chore into a blessing.