Happy hour is a marketing term for a period of time in which a venue (such as a restaurant, bar, bowling alley, stadium, state fair, or county fair) offers discounts on alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine, and cocktails. Free appetizers and discounted menu items are often served during happy hour.
The words "happy" and "hour" have appeared together for centuries when describing pleasant times. In act I, scene 2 of William Shakespeare's King Henry V, he says, "Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour/That may give furtherance to our expedition..." The use of the phrase "happy hour," to refer to a scheduled period of entertainment is, however, of much more recent vintage.
One possible origin of the term "Happy Hour," in the sense of a scheduled period of entertainment, is from the United States Navy. In early 1913, a group of "home makers" called the "Happy Hour Social" organised "semi-weekly smokers" onboard USS Arkansas. The name "Happy Hour Club," "Happy Hour Social Club," and similar variants, had been in use as the names of social clubs, primarily by women's social clubs, since at least the early 1880s. By June 1913, the crew of Arkansas had started referring to their regularly scheduled smokers as "Happy Hours." The "Happy Hours" included a variety of entertainment, including boxing and wrestling matches, music, dancing, and movies. By the end of World War I, the practice of holding "Happy Hours" had spread throughout the entire Navy.
The idea of drinking before dinner has its roots in the Prohibition era. When the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act were passed banning alcohol consumption, people would host "cocktail hours", also known as "happy hours”, at a speakeasy before eating at restaurants where alcohol could not be served. Cocktail lounges continued the trend of drinking before dinner.
The Random House Dictionary of American Slang dates "Happy hour," as a term for afternoon drinks in a bar, to a Saturday Evening Post article on military life in 1959. The article detailed the lives of government contractors and military personnel who worked at missile-tracking facilities in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. "Except for those who spend too much during 'happy hour' at the bar – and there are few of these – the money mounts up fast." Barry Popick's online etymology dictionary, The Big Apple, lists several pre-1959 citations to "Happy Hour" in print, mostly from places near Naval bases in California, from as early 1951.
The Province of Alberta created restrictions to happy hours that took effect in August 2008. All such promotions must end at 20:00, and drink prices must conform to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s minimum price regulations at all times.
In Ontario, while establishments may vary liquor prices as long as they stay above the minimum prices set by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, they are not permitted to advertise these prices "in a manner that may promote immoderate consumption." In particular, the phrase "happy hour" may not be used in such advertisement.
Happy hour has been illegal in the Republic of Ireland since 2003, under the Intoxicating Liquor Act.
The KHN, a hospitality sector lobby group, has agreed with its members to stop happy hours to discourage binge drinking by youth, but only if the government would vote to not raise the minimum drinking age. In March 2013, the law to raise the drinking age to 18 was passed.
The National Mandatory Licensing Conditions introduced in 2010 required "all reasonable steps" to be taken to prevent irresponsible drinks promotions which effectively banned traditional happy hours. Under the 2014 revision to these conditions, the licensee "must ensure" such promotions do not take place, although there is a subjective test, that takes account of the kind of establishment and its track record, for any promotions that offer unlimited or unspecified alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted fee.
Massachusetts was one of the first U.S. states to implement a statewide ban on happy hours in 1984. Other U.S. states also have similar restrictions, including Indiana and North Carolina. The reason for each ban varies, but most are for safety and health reasons.
In 1984, the U.S. military abolished happy hours at military base clubs.
In 2011, the Utah State Legislature passed a ban on happy-hours, effective on 1 January 2012.
By extension, certain file-hosting websites such as RapidShare and Megaupload use the term happy hour to designate periods during which users have complimentary access to certain premium features, such as increased bandwidth, elimination of queues, and bypassing of CAPTCHA verifications.
- "U.S.S. Arkansas". Our Navy, The Standard Magazine of the U.S. Navy. 7 (3): 21. July 1913.
- Brown, Peter Jensen. "History and Etymology of Happy Hour". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- "Athletics in Our Fleet". Our Navy, the Standard Magazine of the U.S. Navy. 12 (8): 66. December 1918.
- Martin, Harold H. (April 25, 1959). "The Men Who Chase Missiles". Saturday Evening Post.
- Popick, Barry. "The Big Apple". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Alberta sets new rules to improve bar safety:Minimum drink prices, restricted happy hours among new policies to curb binge drinking. Alberta News Release, July 3, 2008.
- :Pricing and Promotion of Liquor by Liquor Sales Licensees. Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario Information Bulletin, July 2007.
- Happy hour to end at midnight RTÉ News (17 August 2003)
- DutchNews.nl - End of happy hours in sight - if the legal drinking age remains 16 Archived 2012-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
- "Wetsvoorstel verhoging alcoholleeftijd 16 naar 18 aangenomen". Archived from the original on 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
- Poppleston Allen (1 October 2014). "Mandatory Licensing Conditions: what the new rules mean".
- "City bans happy hours to curb binge drinking". The Scotsman. 15 January 2004.
- Happy hour ban starts in Massachusetts bars New York Times (11 December 1984)
- MICHAEL WEISSKOPF (March 3, 1985). "Differ on Minimum Age, 'Happy Hours' : Army, Navy in Dispute Over Drinking". The Washington Post.
- "Pennsylvania law allows longer happy hours in bars, restaurants". PennLive.com.
- Laura McCallister (30 June 2012). "New liquor law revives happy hour in Kansas".
- Chicago Tribune (15 July 2015). "Happy hour to return to Illinois bars". chicagotribune.com.