Happy Hours Branch Out

Drink specials at unusual hours are drawing business at restaurants and bars

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Stretching a time-honored promotional gambit to new limits, some operators are getting creative with happy hour. They’re switching up the times when they offer special deals, focusing on products they’re proud of, and otherwise reinventing this longstanding tradition. The reward is an influx of new, good customers and higher sales at formerly slow times.

At 24 Diner in Austin, Texas, happy hour runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday through Friday, with half-prices on quality well brands and specialty cocktails. The latter, regularly priced at $6 to $12, include libations like Amarillo Lemonade, made with local vodka infused with two kinds of hops, ginger liqueur, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Another signature is the French 24, a riff on the French 75, made with gin, preserved local Meyer lemons, and champagne. The kitchen produces a menu of chef-inspired comfort food favorites 24 hours a day, ranging from chicken and waffles to a bacon Gorgonzola burger and a French toast platter.

“We wanted the restaurant to feel comfortable, casual, and approachable — the beverage as well as the food,” said sommelier Billy Caruso. Around 7 a.m., hospital employees from the graveyard shift are usually the first to arrive for happy hour. As the day progresses, young professionals, off-duty restaurant personnel, college students and runners still in their sweat suits are likely to walk in. On game days, Austin’s fervent college football fans stop by for an eye-opener.

“And we honestly see some people drinking really interesting craft beers at 8 a.m.,” said Caruso. “But it’s not an over-the-top party. It’s more people having great conversations about art, music, sports, and the world.”