If you were to base your impression of happy hour on what you’ve seen on reality TV or predictable sitcoms, you may view it as a daily bar or restaurant promotion that's attended by overworked employees and those freshly off-the-clock. In reality, however, happy hours are much more than that.
By providing some sort of unique value or experience to their customers, hospitality businesses such as restaurants, hotels, bars, wineries, breweries, and music venues can boost their sales, reputation, demand, and more. But it doesn't just happen. That's where these happy hour ideas come in.
Whether it’s providing a specialty happy hour that boasts exclusive, area-leading food and beverage discounts, hosting a business mixer, or encouraging guests to bring their dogs to a Yappy Hour, there are tons of ideas to choose from.
Foster fun with these 15 creative happy hour ideas:
1. Create and offer an exclusive menu that's only available during happy hour.
Offer both food and drink specials that are exclusive to happy hour. By adding creative cocktails, beer specials, and menu items, you create an inherent demand for those items based on their availability and exclusivity.
In addition to drawing in a curious audience, including exclusive menu items is a great opportunity for the chef to test out new dishes before adding them to the menu. Perhaps you have an inventive bartender who thinks their new drink is the next big thing. Test it out.
Happy hours are often attended by folks looking to unwind. With the hopes of a low-priced good time in their future, they are likely to be excited and honest about their experience. Harness their energy as a tool to constantly improve your menu.
2. Don’t skimp on food items.
Sure, drink specials are probably the first thing you associate with happy hour, but be sure not to skimp out on the food. While your guests may come in with a thirst to quench, food provides just as much of an opportunity. Who doesn’t want a snack after unwinding a bit?
In fact, according to a recent happy hour study, an average of 46% of happy hour attendees were attracted to a location by valuable drink prices, while 41% are attracted to value-priced food deals. That's basically equal. So while focusing on food may not be the most unique happy hour idea on this list, it's certainly one of the most important.
3. Hype up your full menu.
Hosting an intriguing happy hour can help your business benefit in a variety of ways. In addition to bringing in business during slower times and testing out potential menu items, happy hour can also help build interest in your standard menu offerings.
Offer smaller portions of your standard menu items to create a buzz for your menu. Showcase your best-selling items as well as dishes that could use a little more exposure. Be certain to connect, and have your staff connect, with guests to make them aware that full dishes are available during standard hours as well.
4. Appeal to groups with large plates.
Small plates are perfect for happy hour, but so are shareable sizes. Consider these numbers from the same report cited above:
- 38% of happy hour patrons see it as an opportunity to meet with friends
- 23% see it as an opportunity to connect and socialize with their colleagues outside of office hours or the workplace
With such a large portion of happy hour patrons looking at it as an opportunity to hang out with friends, socialize, and reconnect, venues can’t afford to exclude this sector of customers by limiting their dishes. To attract the largest customer base, include a fair mix of hors d'oeuvres and shared plates.
5. Offer delicious pairings.
Increase curiosity for your menu and highlight specialized ingredients by creating unique food and drink pairings. If you find yourself in possession of interesting or high-quality ingredients like truffles, morels, or fresh in-season local produce, highlight those items on your happy hour pairing menu.
Consider bringing in a sommelier once a month to meet with guests and walk them through the flavor profile. Not only will this create excitement for your menu, but the specialty event can help increase profits by leading to larger checks. In fact, on average, workers in the U.S. spend over $3,000 on after-work drinks each year.
6. Create small drink and food specials to maximize individual return.
Not all business owners have truffle money in the budget, and many find themselves in food-insecure areas without much access to local produce. If that’s the case for you, don’t get discouraged. Fun pairings don’t have to break the bank.
Something as simple as a Beer and Chips special can help create buzz for your happy hour and wow your customers. Consider adding a special like this to your menu:
- Rail shot + domestic draft beer + housemade chips: $9.99
Specials like this are a win-win. The chips help create thirst, which could lead to higher beverage sales. It also appeals to the artisan crowd by including a delicious, simple food item made in-house.
7. Include tasting specials.
Is your business in an area with an abundance of wineries or breweries? If so, use that to your advantage.
Partner with local brewers and vintners and showcase their items in your establishment. Have a local representative come out and talk to guests about their products. Promotions like this will not only bring in guests who are already fans of their beverages, but also guests that are interested in trying them.
If working with local companies is not an option for you based on your location, that’s okay too. You can still host wine tastings for your guests. Advertise events like:
- A tour of Italy, where Italian wines are showcased
- A Spanish wine extravaganza
The professionals at your local wine shop will be able to walk you through a tasting menu and help you create a lavish flavor journey for your happy hour patrons.
8. Create relationships with local bands and entertainers.
If you have the space for it, host bands or musicians at your venue. By partnering with local attractors, you appeal to their existing fan base as well as fans of the music genre in general. It’s also a great opportunity for cross-promotion. Don’t limit yourself by only booking bands or comedians either. Think outside of the box.
Do you have a local improv group? Invite them. Contact local theatres or university art departments to see what they have coming up. They may be looking for a place to hold a reading or promote an upcoming show by performing snippets or songs for an audience. You could even host a Broadway Review.
However, when thinking of the type of entertainment you want to feature, it's crucial to know the types of guests who frequent your location. If you're a college town hotspot and your most common customers are between the ages of 21-25, inviting a local acoustic guitarist probably isn't the best idea. Take a step back and examine the type of vibe each happy hour is attempting to reach and plan your entertainment accordingly.
9. Host a Mystery Brew promotion or Luck of the Draw beer special.
Of course, the happy hour ideas we create are geared toward guest enjoyment, but happy hours can also be a great way for restaurants and other hospitality businesses to move some of their surplus inventory. Add a Luck of the Draw special to your happy hour menu to move beers that are going off the menu or that you find yourself in excess of.
- It’s the Luck of the Draw!: $3 for a mystery craft brew of our choosing
Promotions like these are a creative way to entice guests to try new things, and the mystery is intriguing.
10. Have fun with themes.
Everyone loves a good theme party. Have fun with themed happy hour events and create promotions or specials that are tied into the theme. Themes can range from musical eras like 80s Hour to food-related ideas like Pizza Night or Dugout Day if a great baseball game is on.
Themes are also a great opportunity to tie in drink or food specials for guests who participate.
- Island Daze: Wear a Hawaiin shirt and receive a free slice of Hawaiin pizza with your drink order
See which themes your guests have the most fun with and make them regular occurrences. Ask your employees what themes they’d like to see and ask them to participate too. Promotions like these are another great opportunity for your business to connect with your customers in a relaxing way.
11. Host a regular Yappy Hour event.
Venues with outdoor or patio seating have a fabulous opportunity to host a Yappy Hour. Encourage your guests to bring their four-legged friends and enjoy a beautiful afternoon outside. You could even partner with a local animal shelter or adoption center to promote their cause.
12. Attract the artistic with a paint night.
Have you noticed that your business seems to be slower on a certain day? Are you lagging in patronage on Wednesday afternoon specifically? Host a paint night to help fill up on dead days.
Simply do an online search for “wine and paint” to find hosts in your areas. Book groups, advertise ticket prices, and take advantage of a cross-promotion opportunity.
13. Utilize social media platforms to advertise events, specials, and updates.
We’re in the midst of a digital transformation, and a social presence is an absolute must these days, especially those in the food and beverage or hospitality industries. With so much competition, businesses have to connect with guests on a personal level and showcase what sets them apart.
If your business doesn’t already have a Facebook page or Instagram account, get one. Make sure that your business is listed online in directories like the Cvent Supplier Network and Google My Business as well.
Use social media as a platform for showcasing your menu items, specialty cocktails, events, and happy hour ideas. Create fun and catchy hashtags and encourage guests to use them when posting as well.
During themed events like Island Daze, capture photos of guests in funky shirts to display online. By showcasing the participation, you’re creating excitement for future happy hour ideas. Just be sure to always ask their permission before snapping a photo or posting it online.
14. Include a fun fish-bowl giveaway.
Networking with your customers is vital for maintaining a steady flow of business. Often, however, many guests are looking to relax and let loose during happy hour and they may not want to feel like they’re part of a networking effort. You can still get great contact information for customers by simply setting aside a fish bowl or other similar receptacle for guests to drop their business cards into.
Advertise a drawing or giveaway for folks who drop in their business cards and let them know that the winner will be announced at the end of happy hour. This can become an affordable and regular occurrence that will help get guests to extend their happy hour visit to dinner hours. It’s also a great opportunity for hotels, conference centers, and event venues to get sales leads for future business.
15. Be generous.
You can increase your prices during happy hour due to the exclusivity of items and specials, but be generous with the portions if you do. Modern restaurant-goers are savvy and can spot overpriced items a mile away. And even though they may make the purchase during their first visit, that likely won’t lead to repeat business.
It cannot be overstated: value is key!
Provide your guests with a great value for the price and they’ll sing your praises. Not only will this lead to increased business from repeat customers, but happy guests will provide you free marketing with word-of-mouth reviews.
Put these happy hour ideas to use today!
Use these happy hour ideas as a chance to showcase what sets you apart: menu, location, outdoor seating, etc. Keep it fun and creative, and don’t be afraid to change it up frequently. Keep track of your tactics to see which events and specials lead to the highest profits.