Ahh, happy hour. That brief, shining window, generally during weekday afternoons, when bars roll back drink prices in an effort to lure in those who are able to take advantage of the free time and low prices. But while bars are still great sources of happy hours, plenty of restaurants are offering happy hours, too. And not just on drinks; they're knocking back prices on food as well. In fact, some of the country’s best-known, and most expensive, chain restaurants offer little-known menus featuring incredibly inexpensive food and drink specials. You just need to know where to go and when to go. And that’s what we’re here for.
Happy hour itself is nothing new, obviously. Bars have been offering cheap snacks and discounted drinks to lure in patrons during off-hours as far back as anyone can remember (or not remember, as the case may be). But restaurants, especially the large chains, offering a happy hour is a slightly newer development, and one that a lot of folks still might not know about.
The main reason that a lot of these restaurants are offering these special deals is because overall business is down due to the recession, and restaurants need to find more ways to fill the seats. According to USA Today, sales at fast-casual restaurants like Ruby Tuesday were down 5.6 percent in 2009, when many of these happy hours first appeared on menus. "This is what you have to do to get business," Malcolm Knapp, who tracks the industry, told the newspaper. "People don't have enough money to eat out."
So exactly how good are these deals? While each state has its own happy hour laws, believe it or not, most chains have been able to find a happy (hour) medium, offering drinks and appetizers at the bar for less than $10. And while casual eateries like Ruby Tuesday offer special prices, we’ve focused our ranking on some of the more expensive restaurants, where you really wouldn’t expect to find something like a sliced filet mignon sandwich with béarnaise sauce and fries for just $7 (Ruth’s Chris Steak House).
Not every single outpost of these restaurants offers these deals, so you’ll still want to call ahead, but we have a good feeling that after reading through our list you’ll have found your newest "I got out of work early!" hangout.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.