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The Best 6 Happy Hour Ideas of 2021
Two words: Increased revenue. That’s the name of the game this year as breweries, taprooms, bars, and restaurants begin the long, arduous climb out of the hole left by the pandemic.
In the past, we’ve written about several strategies to help hospitality establishments generate increased revenue, including serving cocktails on tap, starting a mug club, or using a self-pour serving wall. But another top tactic is to establish a happy hour, or to find more creative happy hour ideas.
Happy hours can be a simple strategy to attract new consumers, create loyal fans, and bring in more revenue during non-peak business times. They’re a win-win-win.
With that in mind, we put together a list of some of the top happy hour ideas to generate increased revenue, whether you’re considering the idea for the first time or you’re looking to bring some fresh post-COVID perspective to a tried and true tactic.
Topics we’ll cover in this piece:
- What Is the Point of a Happy Hour?
- What Are the Best Ways to Run a Happy Hour?
- Check the Local Legalities Around a Happy Hour
- Top Happy Hour Ideas for 2021
What Is the Point of a Happy Hour?
Generally, happy hours provide discounted drinks and/or food options to patrons within a specified time of the day. Attracting colleagues grabbing a drink after work, friends looking to meet up, or even couples out for a date, happy hours are great ways to bring in customers to your bar or restaurant during early or off-hours. Happy hours can also create brand loyalty, increase sales, and even bring new people into your establishment.
According to data from integrated-point-of-sale provider Cake, bars with happy hours have thirty-three percent higher transactions than those without. During happy hour times, they also see an average increase in revenue of twenty-six percent.
Bottom line: Happy hours can generate more revenue for your bar.
What Are the Best Ways to Run a Happy Hour?
(Photography courtesy of Treadwell Park)
When thinking about implementing a happy hour, a business needs to make three decisions.First, you need to decide the day or days your happy hours will take place. Businesses also need to decide the times to run happy hours on those days, as well as the discounts to offer.
Typically, happy hours happen during the work week, Monday through Friday, and somewhere between the hours of 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Essentially, at off-times when your establishment would otherwise be slow.
“Happy hours are a great tool to encourage guests to come during the slower hours or times when it’s not so busy,” says Anne Becerra, the Cicerone and Beer Director at Treadwell Park, a craft beer bar with three locations throughout Manhattan, NY. “For most bars, especially in New York, the real estate and labor cost are often more of an investment than the product itself. If [a bar] wants to continue to operate, happy hours offer a little more flexibility. You generally don’t need as much staff during those times and there’s not as much turnover or competition for seating at those times.”
But it’s worth considering experimenting with these times. How about a happy hour at lunch? What about one late at night?
At Tiger’s Taproom, a neighborhood bar in Oakland, CA, owner Brian Chan says he started running a happy hour during the pandemic at peak times on Friday nights to help drive his draft sales. Chan offered folks $1 or $2 off 32oz growler fills.
“That drove my Friday, because that was our huge day,” says Chan. “We would have a line down the block of people trying to get cans and draft, so I thought I might as well take advantage of that super busy day and offer incentive to make it even busier.”
Beyond the timing, happy hours should provide an incentive for patrons, usually in the form of discounted drinks or food.
According to Statista, forty-six percent of happy hour goers are looking for well-priced drinks, but right behind them forty-one percent of consumers reported a desire for discounts on food as well. Building your happy hour around both discounts on drinks and food will increase your chances of attracting guests. And, keep in mind that the typical happy hour consumer often visits a bar or restaurant in a group, meaning shareable dishes or pitchers are a great option.
Lastly--and this is really the pivotal point of a happy hour--give your discounted offers a time limit. Normally, somewhere between two to three hours is standard. By providing parameters, your happy hour guests will feel an urgency to purchase fare to take advantage of the deals. And psychologically, there’s an element of exclusivity to taking part in a special hour or two of deals.
Check the Local Legalities Around a Happy Hour
A quick note -- we’re not lawyers and can’t give legal advice. So implement these ideas at your own risk!
If you’re starting a happy hour program for the first time, make sure to check your local laws. Many states restrict--or even ban--happy hour promotions. Currently, the following eight states have outright bans on happy hours: Alaska, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont.
Even in the states that do allow happy hours, the restrictions can sometimes be confusing. For example, while Virginia does allow happy hour drink specials, it’s illegal to mention these promotions in any type of advertising outside the bar. And in Oregon, while drink deals during happy hour and advertising are allowed, adding the prices in your advertisement is not. Other states won’t let bars offer drinks deals late at night.
This means that before you implement any of the following ideas, you need to check your local Alcoholic Beverage Control office or respective commission. You can find a list of each state’s representative authority here.
Top Happy Hour Ideas for 2021
From themed nights to unique events, the creativity associated with your happy hours can be limitless. With the potential to increase sales, build more brand loyalty, and attract new customers, developing a happy hour program should be in every business owner's back pocket.
#1: Unique Flight Options
Give a discount on a tasting flight. This can include a variety of options from beer pours to wine or even spirits. Create small portions of four to five drinks and let people wet their whistle by choosing from one of your hand-picked selections.
(Photography courtesy of Treadwell Park)
#2: Pint + Plate Pairings
What’s better than one discounted drink or one discounted menu item? How about pairing a few together for one overall special? While Treadwell Park offers the standard discounted draught beer, wine by the glass, and few select food items, Becerra says that their most popular happy hour special is the Berger & Burger combo. The bar offers a 16oz Radeberger pilsner alongside a junior burger for only $10. Take a look at your menu and highlight one item and pair it with a select draft for a double whammy that will be hard for patrons to resist.
(Photography courtesy of Treadwell Park)
#3: Target a Theme
Give people an engaging reason to come to your bar, taproom, or restaurant. Develop certain theme nights. For example, Tropical Tuesdays, where anyone that comes in wearing a Hawaiian shirt gets a discount on a rum-based cocktail. Or a Star Wars night, where anyone that shows up with a lightsaber gets a $4 pint. We’re getting super creative here, but the sky's the limit. Just remember that understanding your core consumer is critical. We’ve stressed this before as a best practice when creating a craft beer logo or label: Understanding who you are as a brand and who your typical customers are will be crucial to every business decision you make, including building out a happy hour program. If you’re mainly a sports bar it might not make sense to create a night centered around, say, Shakespearean plays.
#4: Flip a Coin or Spin a Wheel
The idea here is simple, though definitely check your state laws here to see if it’s legal! With this concept, you give your guests the opportunity to win a discount. Because people can’t resist a low-stakes gamble! Set a list of eligible items such as domestic drafts, house wine, or well drinks. Anyone that plays the game has an opportunity to win something like half off that particular drink simply by flipping a coin or spinning a wheel. This tactic requires little to no cost up front and is a fun way to engage your patrons.
#5: (Un)Happy Hour
Normally, happy hours involve discounts on basic items like well drinks, house wine, or draft beer. Take it up a notch and offer a deal on just one exclusive beverage. Make a batch of a high-quality cocktail, something that works well in large amounts like a sangria or punch. Rotate the flavors of this seasonally and then, during happy hour, offer it at half price. Chances are, your guests will still grab a draft beer or food on the side, so this could be a really smart play. Plus, if you have any leftover liquor that isn’t selling well and you’re looking to use it up, this could be the perfect opportunity.
(Photography courtesy of Tiger’s Taproom)
#6: Elevate your Events
Give people a whimsical and quirky reason to visit your bar or taproom on an off-night of the week. Sure, we’re all down for Trivia Tuesdays, but again this is where your creativity can shine.
“Everyone in my neighborhood does trivia. I don’t want to do that,” says Chan. “I have to come up with other ways and events to bring more people in.”
For example, Chan recently hosted a tap takeover with the well-known Iowa-based brewery Toppling Goliath to celebrate their first time distributing in the Bay Area. He’s also hosting a similar event with Liquid Gravity Brewing Co.
“I’m getting super exclusive taproom-only beers,” says Chan.
And in addition to beer-focused events, Chan plans to bring back live music. He’s also toying with organizing other successful events he ran before the pandemic such as chili cookoffs, neighborhood potlucks, and Friendgivings.
“I’m just trying to think of other unique things to do,” says Chan.
Decide what event might be a good fit for your business. Can you invite a local artist to host a pop-up or sip-and-sketch night on a Monday? Create a Skee-Ball or darts league on a Tuesday? Play ‘80s movies on the big screen on Wednesdays? Or offer local rec sports teams a special happy hour on Thursdays? Let your imagination run wild.
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