How to Set Your Bar’s Happy Hour Apart

Lots of places run generic Happy Hour specials. Half-priced this or that, and basic bar food/appetizers that are generally uninspiring and available everywhere. They don’t seem to exude trying, caring, or any sort of creativity. Some under-fried, over-sauced buffalo wings or basic nachos wont exactly send people rushing in to fill your dining room.

This is where you can win. Introducing creative menu items mixed in with the classics can set yourself apart from the traditional, dime-a-dozen Happy Hours. Try Happy Hour-specific menu items or, if your regular menu is relatively fancy, add some bartop classics for a short spell each day. It’ll be refreshing to your regulars and more accessible to new guests.

Guests love exclusivity. 

If you can only get specific items at certain times, people are more likely to be excited for them. Think of the famous burger at Craigie on Main. Only 18 are made per day and they sell out immediately after they go on sale at 5pm every day (it doesn’t hurt that it is one of the best burgers you will ever have the privilege of eating). Keep that in mind as inspiration -- a basic item like a burger making news all over the country.

Creative twists on classic Happy Hour items are a solid start. However, even the classic bar snacks done exceptionally well can always be a win. The levels of fanaticism for wings or pizza alone can send people on pilgrimages to your promised-land of a bar/restaurant. So really nailing a classic should always first be kept in mind prior to a creative twist.

How about Happy Hour drinks? 

Happy Hour drinks are the biggest draw, and most operators want to balance the ingredient cost of creative alcoholic beverages with the lower cost guests tend to expect. Enter cheap beers and pre-mixed drinks. 

Consider mixing up your brands, though. Everywhere on earth can serve you a Pabst Blue Ribbon for cheap. Maybe be the bar that serves Lone Star/Hamm’s/Black Label/House beer/Tecate. Same genre of beer but with a little twist. People notice. Think of it like a house wine choice because it will almost always be your most ordered beer. Associative branding matters.

For liquor, snobby guests may reject it, but using well liquor for a mixed drink is standard practice and due to the mixture of ingredients nobody will notices. Guests shouldn’t necessarily drink it neat but for Happy Hour deals it makes sense. Give a pre-made sangria or mojito a try; they are always a huge hit with guests and you can charge more than a beer without any complaints.

New World Sangria - found at Globe Bar and Cafe

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Will Happy Hour discounts hurt my restaurant’s profit?

This is a legitimate concern for operators. An easy solution is to adjust the portions to better fit costs and encourage multiple orders rather than singles. The advantage of Happy Hour Specials is guests do not generally expect a mountain of food or full pitcher of drinks for the price. Mixed drinks should be tasty but not rocket fuel, a beer is a beer, and a shot is a shot. An order of wings doesn’t have to be a dozen, plus you can use bone-in wing alternatives to keep costs down. 

If you offer truly great basics during your Happy Hour, you are sure to have people take notice and keep your restaurant full each time. Word of mouth spreads, people will share the deals on social media and you will be well on your way to leading the pack in your area.