Happy hour menu ideas for your restaurant

There’s nothing like kicking back and relaxing with a cheap drink after a hard day’s work. As most people have returned to in-person activities, the demand for happy hour has risen. Whether you offer a nice selection of wines or are known for your fun cocktails, featuring happy hour discounts is a sure way to get more customers to place an order. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?

When you’re looking for ways to maximize restaurant revenue, happy hour is a cost-effective option — you can start with just a few fun menu ideas and your regularly scheduled staff. This classic afternoon event tends to attract groups, which boosts order value and introduces a wide range of diners to your restaurant.

What’s the point of a happy hour?

Happy hour is a period of time — usually, 2-3 hours in the late afternoon or early evening — when bars and restaurants offer discounted alcoholic drinks and appetizers. The exact times vary by establishment and day of the week but usually fall somewhere between 4 pm and 8 pm on weekdays. Weekend happy hours might start as early as 2 pm

The point of a happy hour is to increase revenue during the slow period between lunch and dinner. It’s particularly effective if you want to attract an after-work crowd; drink specials can bring in professionals who are looking to wind down at the end of a long day.

As an extra incentive, many restaurants offer free cocktail-hour finger foods or deals on appetizers to tide customers over until dinner. Some restaurants create a dedicated menu; others come up with new happy hour ideas every day to give guests a reason to come back.

In addition to increasing foot traffic, happy hour offers several important business benefits for restaurants. You can take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to try out new cocktail trends and appetizer recipes; it’s a great way to gauge the customer response before you change the permanent menu. You can also feature seasonal offerings on a limited-time menu. When you have a surplus of a kitchen ingredient or type of alcohol, use happy-hour discounts to boost orders and run inventory through faster.

Happy hour menu ideas customers will love

As you plan a happy hour menu, it’s important to decide whether it will be permanent or revolving. Both have advantages — a permanent menu streamlines your ordering and prep processes, but a revolving menu offers more flexibility.

Start with alcoholic beverages; they’re the foundation of a good happy hour. Accommodate a variety of tastes by offering a small selection of discounted beer, wine and mixed drinks. You can still offer the regular menu, of course, but expect happy-hour deals to get the most attention. The drinks you choose will depend on factors that include:

  • How easy the drink is to prepare and serve
  • Whether the bartender can make a large batch in advance
  • Profit margins with the discounted price
  • Seasonal trends and flavor preferences
  • The popularity of the beverage during regular hours
  • Current inventory and bartender preferences

When it comes to food, the best happy hour menu ideas prioritize big flavors and bite-size servings. That way, customers can take the edge off their appetites without filling up before dinner. If you’re serving beer in a casual environment, aim for popular finger foods that are easy to eat: soft pretzels and cheese, nachos, bacon-cream cheese roll-ups, or street tacos, for example. For a restaurant with a more elevated vibe, consider gastropub-style appetizers such as stuffed mushrooms, crostini with goat cheese, or charcuterie platters.

If you’re developing a seasonal menu for your restaurant, consider extending it to happy hour, too. Create dishes that feature local in-season produce, for example, or offer holiday-themed snacks and drinks. In the winter, you might add hot drinks to the menu, such as mulled wine or spiced apple cider.

Looking for ways to boost both food and beverage sales? Experiment with different happy-hour specials to encourage bigger orders:

  • Discounted wine or beer flights
  • Combo deals for an appetizer and two drinks
  • Discount code just for social media followers
  • $5 local beer or wine
  • Four drinks for the price of three
  • Buy one, get one half off the deal on appetizers

What happy hour drinks are trending?

The types of drinks customers turn to quench their thirst often change season to season. However, there are a few drinks that stand out all year round. What were the top ordered alcoholic beverages on Grubhub in 2022?

  1. Beer: This classic drink is a happy hour must have. Consider offering local brews and seasonal lagers to keep it fresh.
  2. margaritas: Whether they prefer it with salt or sugar on the ream, there’s no doubt customers can’t get enough of this sweet cocktail. Offer a variety of flavors and let customers dictate if they want it on the rocks.
  3. Hot Sake: This Japanese specialty has risen in popularity in the past year. Known as ‘okan’ or ‘kanzake’ in Japanese, this stronger drink comes in a variety of flavors and can be served at different temperatures depending on your diners’ liking.
  4. Piña Colada: Rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice are a dreamy mix of ingredients that many customers can’t turn down. Serve frozen with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry to make diners feel like they’re at the beach all year round.
  5. White Wine: Wine is also a happy hour must-have. You can serve wine in mini pre-sealed to-go bottles to make your happy hour deal part of your delivery menu.

Happy hour doesn’t only mean spiked drinks. It can pay to offer non-alcoholic beverages at a happy hour discount to include everyone in your afternoon special. What non-alcoholic beverages were customers ordering on Grubhub?

  1. cola
  2. Lemon Lime Soda
  3. Iced Tea
  4. Iced Coffee
  5. Thai Iced Tea

Tips for a successful happy hour

Done well, happy hour can be good for your restaurant’s business; it boosts your revenue without excessive labor costs or major menu modifications. To get the most from the event, follow a few happy hour best practices:

  • Stick to the same hours every week to set expectations
  • Consider profit margins when evaluating happy hour menu ideas and discounts
  • Choose finger foods when possible to reduce utility usage and streamline cleanup
  • Offer happy hour exclusives to attract your regular lunch and dinner customers
  • Ask for guest feedback on new recipes and drinks
  • Choose times that fit between your restaurant’s specific rush periods
  • Keep customers interested with themes, live entertainment and partnerships

Marketing is essential for a successful happy hour, especially in the first few months. Build excitement by mentioning the times and discounts on your website, in marketing emails and in advertisements. While you’re at it, try sending flyers to nearby businesses. Make sure to promote daily or weekly specials on social media to motivate spur-of-the-moment visits.

To get more customers in on the fun, offer happy hour appetizer specials and alcohol for delivery. It’s easy with Direct — you can build a commission-free branded ordering platform that enables customers to order snacks and drinks to enjoy at the comfort of their home. Your bottom line benefits as well; adding alcohol to your Grubhub menu can boost your average order value by up to $15. When you’re ready to expand your restaurant’s happy hour to your delivery menu, get started with Grubhub today.

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