Making the Most of Happy Hour

Here’s a stat for bars and restaurants to be happy about: Nearly 70% of adult beverage consumers say they order happy-hour drinks at least once in a while.

That’s according to Technomic’s fourth-quarter 2013 Consumer Brand Metrics Consumer Update report, which looks at (among other topics) several facets of consumers’ away-from-home alcohol beverage consumption, including consumption location and occasion and drinks ordered.

The report found that consumers ages 25 to 34 drive happy-hour patronage: More than four in five indicated that they ever visit foodservice locations for happy hour during the week. In addition, men are more likely than women to be happy-hour patrons, and the patronage discrepancy between the genders increases with consumers’ age. Among consumers ages 25 to 34, for example, 85% of men and 81% of women reported visiting bars or restaurants for happy hour; among those ages 55 and older, 60% of men and 50% of women said the same.

Beer is consumers’ preferred adult beverage when they’re drinking away from home, regardless of the time of day. Just more than three-quarters of consumers (76%) said they’re likely or very likely to order a beer away from home, giving beer a slim lead over cocktails/mixed drinks (73%) and a more substantial one over wine (65%) and straight hard liquor (42%). At happy hour, consumers are more likely to order their drinks without first taking a look at the adult-beverage menu; however, consumers indicated greater use of beverage menus during happy hour at restaurants and gastropubs than at sports bars and hotel bars—suggesting opportunities for restaurants and gastropubs in particular to use their menus to steer happy-hour patrons to new, featured or signature adult beverages.

Which menu factors can sway consumers’ alcohol beverage selection? Sixty-five percent of adult beverage consumers polled by Technomic said a picture of the beverage on the menu may influence their drink decision; about half (53%) said the logo of an alcohol or spirit brand could. A menu icon indicating that the drink is new is less likely than the drink’s placement in a list of lower-priced drink specials to factor into consumers’ choice.

Of course, sheer variety of beverages is important to consumers, too. Technomic found also last year that 56% of consumers believe it’s important for a restaurant or bar to offer a wide selection of craft beers, for example. In fact, around half (49%) said they will choose an establishment because of its craft beer lineup.

In celebration of the great tradition of happy hour—and the coming weeks’ longer and (maybe?) warmer days as an enticement for consumers to enjoy those early-evening specials—here’s a roundup of recent happy-hour news from across the country:

  • In Washington, DC, and Dallas, two happy-hour-themed mobile apps are looking to gain wider exposure among local adult beverage consumers. In DC, CLiNK uses geolocation technology to find nearby happy-hour destinations for users. As reported this month in the Washington Business Journal, the app, launched last summer by a homeland security consultant, now is looking to extend its service beyond the capital to metropolitan Washington. In Dallas, the similar Secret Happy Hour app received a public introduction this month at Launch DFW’s showcase of area tech startups. SHH aims to stand out from the mobile-apps crowd via its focus on deals from local and independent establishments.
  • In Virginia, restaurants can now more freely advertise that they have a happy-hour program. Previously, restaurants statewide could promote their happy hour only inside the establishment or on a small sign attached to the building. A decision implemented by Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Department changed that as of January 29, giving restaurants the opportunity to promote happy hour via their website, social media, sandwich boards, print/broadcast ads, etc. There are still tight restrictions on wording—the type of alcohol on offer can’t be mentioned, for example (no “beer specials from 5 to 7 p.m.” signs)—but the move gives restaurants more flexibility nonetheless.
  • In Greenwood Village, CO, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers announced that it was “repealing” happy hour, offering specially priced adult beverages at the bar and in the restaurant throughout the day. Participating locations now offer 79 drink options for less than $5 each all day. According to a news release from the casual-dining chain, the new program complements Red Robin’s lineup of $3, $5, $7 and $9 appetizers.
  • In Seattle, the Seattle Center, which plays host to a variety of public and business events, is back for 2014 with its “Seattle’s Best Damn Happy Hour” series. On the third Thursday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m., residents can gather at the center’s armory to enjoy specialty cocktails, music from a live DJ, trivia/giant Jenga competitions and foods from Seattle Center Armory eateries (including Seattle Fudge, a barbecue concept and up-and-coming fast-casual pizza chain MOD Pizza). There’s no cover charge for the event, which is co-sponsored by the city of Seattle.

For operators looking to build their happy-hour business, it can be worthwhile to consider a more-creative approach, such as that taken at the Seattle Center. Going beyond discounted beers to offer games, themed events, and carefully cultivated food and drink specials can help operators appeal to the hordes of thirsty consumers seeking something different after work.


Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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