Designing a Standout Happy Hour Menu: Maximize Profits & Customer Engagement

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Geri Mileva
May 9, 2023
A group of people are enjoying a restaurant's happy hour menu offerings.

Another long workday has come to an end. You pack up your bags and wave goodbye to your coworkers, ready to head home. But then you hear those magical words, “Happy hour anyone?”. Next thing you know, you are laughing around a table, sipping on a tangy cocktail as you scrap up the last of the artichoke dip. An arguably much better night than the Netflix and takeout you had planned. 

Happy hour has become a popular cultural concept that signals the opportunity to relax after a tough day or the time to socialize over drinks and food. But what exactly is happy hour? 

What is Happy Hour?

Also known as beer o'clock, cocktail or social hour, or after-work specials, happy hour is a fun time of the day, usually starting late in the afternoon and running up to early evening, when several restaurants and bars offer discounted beverages and snacks. The offered deals vary greatly, from two-for-one bargains to special prices on menu items. 

A glass of wine and a plate of food from a restaurant's happy hour menu.

The Value of a Happy Hour Menu

Happy hour has become embedded into cultures all around the world. Who wouldn't want to spend an hour or two with colleagues and friends sharing mouthwatering appetizers like tapas, tacos, skewers, mini sliders, and dips — not to mention discounted cocktails?

Dining establishments and customers alike benefit from happy hours. They enable restaurants and bars to bring in new customers, try out new recipes, and increase revenue between lunch and dinner — hours when they would otherwise be less busy. Likewise, it provides customers a chance to unwind and socialize while enjoying food and beverage bargains.

According to this happy hour report, adults in the US spend around 2.5 hours during happy hour on average. In the workforce, Millennials and Gen Xers are especially fond of beer o'clock. 62% of millennial employees have gone to happy hour, compared to 52% of all adult employees.

However, any restaurant can offer a beer o'clock special, but if you want customers to come in during this time (and stay for dinner), you’ll have to deliver a great experience. To make your restaurant’s happy hour a success, you’ll need a fantastic happy hour menu.

In some restaurants, happy hour features a specific menu that is different from the regular one. For instance, there are establishments that design daily happy hour themes, like Taco Tuesday or Fandom Friday, to attract and retain customers. Seasonal items can also be included on a limited-time menu — designing a new happy hour menu for each season ensures there is always something new for your regulars. And, when you have an excess of a particular ingredient, you can use happy-hour discounts to get more orders and move inventory faster.

Happy Hour Menu Design Considerations

Now that you have a better understanding of the benefits of a happy hour menu, let's dive into what menu items should be included. Your happy hour menu should be a balance between popular menu items and happy hour exclusives, while offering something that meets everyone's dietary needs and preferences. Here are 6 considerations for designing your happy hour menu.

1. Feature Popular Menu Items

Adding your restaurant's popular items to the happy hour menu encourages your lunch and dinner regulars to come back during the “off hours”, and it can also help attract new customers. Because the items already have an established reputation, they're not that hard to sell. Furthermore, adding the best-sellers helps reduce food waste since you're using ingredients that are already available and prepped.

2. Consider Ease of Preparation

The menu has a significant impact on many aspects of a restaurant's operations, so understanding how to best prepare your menu items is essential. Happy hour dishes, especially those that are discounted, shouldn’t be elaborate. Go for easy-to-prepare food that can be produced quickly, reducing wait times and increasing table turnover. Although some guests may want to sit and talk for hours, remember that some may be on a late lunch break, requiring their meal quickly. In addition, the quality of quick-to-prepare items tends to be more consistent, which is favorable for both the restaurant's reputation and its patrons. Happy hour should be light, fun, and easy, so don’t kill your kitchen staff with complex dishes. 

3. Incorporate Shareability

Dishes made for happy hour are meant to be shared, as one of the main goals of after-work specials is for people to socialize and make new connections. Sharing platters of sliders, pizza, and nachos enables customers to enjoy a variety of dishes while mingling with others.

Appetizers on crackers from a happy hour menu.

4. Consider Ingredients and Seasonality

Using seasonal ingredients saves money without sacrificing taste — an arguably, fresh and local ingredients can elevate a dish. Prices for in-season produce are generally cheaper and easier to acquire than those that must be imported from other regions. This is an opportunity to lower your restaurant's food costs and boost its bottom line. Additionally, incorporating locally produced foods helps reduce the restaurant's carbon footprint and supports local farmers.

5. Create Perfect Pairings

Tacos and margaritas, soft pretzels and German lagers, and sliders and brown ales are all popular pairings for a reason. They complement each other. Pairing various beverages with complementary food at discounted rates enriches the entire dining experience and elevates customer satisfaction. It can also persuade customers to try new menu items that they hadn't considered in the past.

6. Diversify Your Happy Hour Menu

Having a diverse happy hour menu that can accommodate a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions is vital for drawing in and keeping customers. To avoid excessive ingredient swaps and special requests, ensure that your menu has at least one dish that meets each of the following dietary restrictions:

  1. Vegan or Vegetarian: A refreshing summer salad with (optional) goat cheese and walnuts works wonderfully
  2. Gluten-free: Corn tortilla tacos with avocados (for vegetarians) or your meat of choice is a tasty gluten-free option
  3. Dairy-free: Wings, sweet potato fries, and crispy cauliflower bites are dairy-free and shareable

In addition to catering to a wider range of customer palates, offering a diverse menu fosters a more inviting and welcoming environment. 

How to Price Your Menu

When setting a price for your happy hour menu, strike a balance between generating a profit and providing value to your customers. Before pricing your menu items conduct a competitive analysis and cost calculation. This will help you to understand what you should be charging, and then you can evaluate your discounting and promotion strategy. Let's dive deeper into each step of your pricing your menu.

1. Competitive Analysis

Do your homework. Find out what your competitors are charging during their happy hour. Make a comparison between their rates and what you can offer. It's all about fair pricing. Furthermore, doing an analysis can help you uncover market gaps and opportunities, so you can tailor your menu accordingly.

2. Cost Calculation

Cost calculation is essential for determining the revenue potential of your happy hour deal. Checking the cost of food, labor, overhead, and other promotional expenses can help you determine the minimum price required to break even or earn a profit. Calculating food costs can also help identify waste and cost-saving opportunities.

3. Discounts and Promotions

Everyone loves a good deal. It's an excellent way to attract new customers while motivating your regulars to return. However, make sure that your reduced prices aren't causing you to lose profitability. Some discounting options include offering your bestsellers at a lower price or creating new dishes (with smaller portions) for the happy hour menu. You can also offer a fixed-price discount on certain goods, such as cocktails, or bundle appetizers into a shareable platter. Bundling items allows you to increase revenue while offering a better value to your customers — making it a win-win.

A chalkboard featuring a happy hour menu with pricing.

Fixed Pricing vs. Pricing Per Item

Now you may be wondering, should I price my happy hour menu per item, like a normal menu, or should I have set prices for different menu categories — for example, all salads and pizzas are $10, but entrees are $20. Both strategies have their own pros and cons.

Fixed Pricing


• Simplified pricing structure, making it easier for customers to understand.

• Encourages patrons to try a variety of dishes without hesitation.

• Beneficial for groups who are sharing the cost or who are on a budget.

• Can create a sense of perceived value, as customers may feel they are getting a better deal.

• Adds a fun and special element to the happy hour menu, distinguishing it from the regular menu.


May not accommodate for the varying costs of ingredients or labor in different dishes.

• Could potentially lower profits if high-cost dishes are popular choices.

Per Item Pricing


• Allows for greater flexibility in setting prices according to ingredient and labor costs.

• Can provide options for different budgets and appetites, catering to a wider range of customers.

• Enables you to offer unique or premium dishes at a higher price point, balancing out potential losses from other discounted items.

• May be perceived as an elevated dining experience for customers who prioritize quality over cost. 


• Requires more decision-making from customers, which can be overwhelming, especially when sharing with others.

• May result in comparisons between different items' prices, potentially affecting the perceived value.

To decide what pricing structure is best for your business, consider your branding and target audience. Decide which menu structure aligns with your vision and values best, as menu design should be a seamless extension of your overall brand. And if you are really on the fence, a little A/B testing can go a long way. Regardless of which pricing strategy you choose, just remember to strike the perfect balance between revenue and customer value. 

Final Thoughts on Happy Hour Menu Design

A well-thought-out happy hour menu is critical to its success. Designing a successful happy hour menu involves a strategic balance of popular menu items, easy preparation, shareability, seasonality, diverse offerings, and competitive pricing. By crafting a thoughtful menu that appeals to various tastes and dietary preferences, your restaurant can attract new customers and keep regulars coming back for more. The key is to create a memorable experience that showcases your establishment's unique offerings and fosters an inviting atmosphere for patrons to unwind and socialize. When done right, a well-executed happy hour menu can be a significant driver of revenue and customer loyalty, keeping your business thriving in today's competitive dining landscape. 

To help lighten your burden, without sacrificing efficiency and output, leverage employee management tools. Push can help you with your payroll, people management, and administrative duties, allowing you to devote more time to perfecting your menus. To learn more about how Push makes people management easy, request a demo.

Cheers to designing a happy hour menu that keeps your customers happily returning time and time again!

Table of content

May 2023


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