If you’ve ever wondered, “What is happy hour?” You wouldn’t be the first. The idea of a happy hour has been around since 1914, when the US Navy started coming up with ways to relieve boredom at sea. Though the first instances of happy hours didn’t involve alcohol served with tonic water or types of rum, the concept of a recreational hour quickly came to include good drinks-including at a speakeasy location.
These days, “happy hour” is broadly associated with drink promotions as part of how much bars make, pop-up events, and attractions in the hospitality industry. The term primarily refers to alcoholic beverages but can include coffee, fruit-juice-based drinks, and other beverages.
College students and adults who spend long hours studying and working are looking for a chance to unwind. If you’re a bar or restaurant owner (see bar manager salary), a happy hour is the perfect answer.
We’ve got the answers to those questions and more. Keep reading to learn all about happy hour timing.
When Is Happy Hour?: Happy Hour Times
Happy hour is any single hour or period of time between about 2 PM in the afternoon to 6 or 7 PM at night. Late afternoon is when most people are finishing their day at school or work, and thereby create a gap in sales and activity at bars.
Your happy hour can run between four to five hours long, but it’s usually best to keep it shorter. Most happy hours are literally one hour long, or two to three at most. This is for several reasons:
- A shorter happy hour creates urgency and scarcity. When there’s only a small window of opportunity to enjoy something, people are more likely to participate. Brief happy hours are a perfect example of this. Since this is tied to learning how to increase restaurant sales, you should use great restaurant marketing techniques. Ideas include 30% off all food ordered, which is a psychological pricing technique, or a lighthearted competition to win free beer. You may be surprised at the number of people who show up!
- Shorter happy hours generate less mental resistance. Many people who drop by bars are just looking for happy hour drinks. That’s why a happy hour that’s one or two hours long fits people’s expectations. If they see that the promotional period is the entire time between lunch and dinner, they may be confused as to what the point is. Bars and restaurants don’t restrict how long people can stay, but most people only drop in for a short time. Being consistent with people’s expectations is a good principle of sales psychology.
- A short happy hour ensures you won’t run out of supplies. While you should strive for bar profitability every day, you should also maintain accurate par stock. Par level allows you to fulfill customers’ orders without wasting money on excess inventory. You can also use a perpetual inventory system to discover which products are more or less important to keep in your par stock. As for happy hour inventory, calculate roughly how many drinks you’ll need with a simple formula. It looks like this:
Number of anticipated happy hour drinkers x 2 x 0.86 x 2 = total drinks needed
Around 86% of bar-goers drink alcoholic beverages, and you want to account for several people having more than one drink. This gives you enough for regular customers and provides flexibility in the event of greater demand. It also helps you avoid scarcity issues if beer expiration happens.
Another method you can use is changing when you hold happy hours. If you have it at the same time every single week, people get bored because nothing is new and exciting. If you alternate between Tuesday and Thursday nights and experiment with 3 to 4 PM versus 4 to 5 PM, you can attract significant amounts of new customers.
Everyone has a different schedule, and there may be many people who want to check out your events and specials but aren’t able to. By putting engaging events and rare discounts on a rotating schedule, more people will be able to show up. This creates a positive effect where customers who love their time at your restaurant or bar will be all the more excited to share it with friends.
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Happy Hour Ideas Based on Time
Testing happy hour ideas based on different times can reveal what your customers like most. People find variety and newness inherently interesting, and this is as true in restaurants and bars as it is anywhere else.
Check out these happy hour concepts based on the time of day:
- 50% off appetizers between 3 PM and 5 PM. By 1:30 or 2 PM, most people have finished lunch and won’t be thinking about their next meal for a couple hours. If you offer a significant discount on simple menu items like appetizers, people have a reason to stay later or show up earlier. Appetizers tend to be cheap so you can still profit a little, and it incentivizes people to buy food when they’d otherwise wait for dinner. Use a food cost calculator to double-check that your discount doesn’t eliminate all appetizer revenue.
- Popular drinks are discounted on the lowest traffic day. Look at your sales records and find out which day of the week has the lowest sales. For most establishments, this is early weekdays. Next, look at the inventory usage rate for your drinks and find a few popular ones. Discount one or two of them on your lowest traffic day, while leaving enough profit on top of the drinks’ cost percentage. Your customers now have a great reason to drop in on that particular day. If you don’t know how much to discount the drinks, use our recipe costing guide to find your cost of goods sold.
- 15% off all orders between 5 PM and 7 PM. The hours right after most workdays end and before the dinner rush of 7 PM are slow for many restaurants. Instead of letting those hours lag, introduce a discount that can only be redeemed during that time. One example is 15% off any order between 5 PM and 7 PM, which is sure to boost your traffic before the normal dinner crowd.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Time Is Happy Hour
Implementing a happy hour at your establishment is a step towards more profit and brand recognition. But you may still have a few questions before you run off to put one together. Here are some frequently asked happy hour questions and our answers:
What is the best time for happy hour?
Though happy hours can vary, the best happy hour time is usually 5 PM to 7 PM. This is when most bars and restaurants experience a lull and haven’t experienced nightly dinner crowds yet.
Between 5 and 7 PM is also when most people have finished work for the day and are starting to make evening plans (if they haven’t already). Happy hours give people a chance to unwind from the workday, kick back with friends, and enjoy something creative or competitive.
Why do they call it happy hour?
The term “happy hour” was invented when people in the US Navy and speakeasies were creating social events for each other. Individuals in the Navy were always looking for ways to combat boredom at sea, and speakeasies--by their nature--were underground bar gatherings. People wanted ways to escape from the drudgery of daily life and calling these events happy hour stuck.
All in all, happy hour is a pretty straightforward term that implies relaxation, social interaction, and simply having a good time. Modern bars and restaurants often include live entertainment, gaming competitions, artistic events, and local vendors as part of happy hours.
What are normal happy hours?
While happy hour varies from bar to bar, normal happy hours are either 4 PM to 6 PM or 5 PM to 7 PM. These time blocks offer customers the incentive to get drinks and food at a discount, for free with another purchase, or by winning a fun competition.
Some bars create after-lunch happy hours, around 2 PM or 3 PM. However, most people are still occupied with work or school during this time, so it isn’t always effective. The happy hour that works for your bar depends on its location, primary demographic, your marketing strategy, and the products you sell.
Happy Hour Is Beer O’Clock
Successful happy hours are the product of brainstorming, executing, and evaluating. What worked for a different restaurant or bar may not work for yours. Understanding your primary customer demographics and being open to new ideas is the path to profitable happy hours.
Trying different happy hour times is key, too. You may find that a pre-dinner happy hour works better at one point in the week than a post-lunch hour. Track how effective your first few happy hours are, then identify what worked. Keep refining your happy hour offers until you find engaging, profitable concepts that your customers love.