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Stuck in an Afternoon Rut? Serve Guests a Happy Hour with a Twist

Filling the afternoon void with discounted drinks can work wonders for an otherwise slow service. But when the pre-dinner lull creeps back – or never left to begin with – it may be time for a happy hour makeover.

Happy hours are a time where coworkers, family, and new friends can gather and relax after a hard day’s work. Now it seems this sense of connection and letting go has taken a back seat to a marketing campaign for how cheaply one can eat and drink.

But the special time that is happy hour is so much more than discounts.

On the surface, the sole purpose of a happy hour seems to be drawing guests in with drink specials and bar bites. But its origins are surprising (and may reveal how exactly to shake things up).

We’ve sailed on fun since day one

The United States has its Navy to thank for this special time of day. It was around 1914 that Navy sailors started attending weekly parties on ships to keep boredom at bay. There would be live music and entertainment, dancing, movie showings, and sometimes even boxing exhibitions. The dessert and cigars flowed, and everyone had a great time.

Ironically, these Navy “Happy Hour” programs had very little to do with alcohol. It was all about keeping things fun.

If your happy hour isn’t popping like it used to, or you’re looking to launch one that beats the rest, you may need to look beyond discounts and smaller menu portions. Alcohol and food are generally available at most places, so mix in the key ingredient that can add signature flair to your unique drink makeover: FUN!

Stand out with a focus on activities, attitude, and atmosphere

There’s more than one way to liven things up at the bar and beyond.

Special themes, activities, and dazzling decor can really make a mark with your guests – and these elements usually aren’t too expensive to incorporate. Start by asking yourself, “How is my happy hour different from the rest?” If you can’t think of anything, chances are you need to determine what your brand’s all about – and establish the right energy to reinforce it.

It may seem overwhelming to do a happy hour rehaul, but it really just takes some imagination and effort.

By putting a unique spin on this precious post-work period, your place is more likely to stick out in guests’ minds. Make sure there’s something special about what you provide that guests can’t get anywhere else. Most importantly, remember that guests just want to have fun!

Read on for some unique tips and tricks that put the “happy” back in happy hour…

1. Take guests on a beer or wine flight (no passports needed).

People love to feel a sense of accomplishment – especially when they’re drinking! One place that does this masterfully is Checkers Old Munchen, an established German bar that not only serves up authentic German fare but also features the country’s best beers.

You can earn your place in their hearts – and on their wall – by accomplishing a challenging beer flight, which they keep track of old-school style in an ancient folder behind the bar. If a guest makes their way “around the world” by drinking a liter of each beer three times (not in one sitting, of course!), they earn a ceramic beer boot and a plaque on the wall for all aspiring patrons to look up to each visit.

2. And speaking of travel, move guests in more ways than one.

Associating a sense of action and destination to your happy hour is a big break from the norm that will surely get guests talking.

Brightline trains initiated Wine Wednesdays at some of their South Florida stations – but you don’t have to own a railroad to take guests for a ride. Hire a golf cart, peddling car, or cycling company that specializes in the people-moving business.

Whether you’re outsourcing this or handling it in-house, take care in considering safety and liability. Then offer a quick ride around town to those who spend a certain amount. Keep rides to a time limit and distance (think hayride but without the itch).

3. Make guests sing for their supper – or at least for a drink.

Karaoke is a popular bar time activity. But how about raising the stakes and incorporating a happy hour karaoke champion? The song that gets the loudest applause qualifies for a free cocktail or 20% off their tab the next visit. There’s also the option of hosting an open mic: Have a professional local performer organize this so it runs smoothly. The gong format is always an attention grabber, although sometimes ruthless. Gauge the crowd weekly and adjust to what goes over best with the audience.

4. Bring back the joy of childhood with nostalgic games and trivia.

This is a simple and inexpensive way to encourage interaction amongst guests. Board games placed strategically throughout the area set the tone of “stay a while,” and when guests feel at home and start meeting new people, they’ll want to linger – and order. Allow for games that can include more than two people, the louder the better. Consider hosting trivia, especially if it’s not very busy and you have a charismatic bartender hanging out with not much to do. Word will spread, and trivia can become a major draw for those looking for a good time.

5. Every week can feel like a holiday with themed community events.

You’ll have to think outside the box for this one: Setting up theme nights can quickly turn cheesy, especially when only one or two guests awkwardly turn up in costumes. Instead of the usual “80’s night,” try adding another layer, like speed dating. Now an 80’s speed dating night is sure to catch attention, especially if it’s promoted enough. Look to this New York bar that combines speed dating with whiskey tastings. Every week can feature a new theme or activity that fosters a festive mood. Christmas in July, Valentine’s Day in May for singles only, and seeking out and celebrating lesser known holidays also provides another shot of fun.

Dare to be different with your happy hour

Turn your happy hour into something magical and watch your weekday afternoons fulfill their revenue-earning potential. It all starts and ends with the guest experience, so make sure it’s an awesome one. Get creative with your team. Brainstorm, collect ideas, and try them out. You can even ask guests for their feedback with comment cards or an online survey form.

Don’t be afraid to try out different programs, no matter how wacky they seem! The main objective is to focus on the vibe, not the discounts.

Happy hour is so much more than drink specials. It’s getting back to basics with human connection. It’s reminding guests that life is not just work – it’s to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. As we’ve learned from our country’s brave sailors, it’s not so much about alcohol as it is about having fun.