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Economy’s Silver Lining: A Happy Hour Boom

Wednesday, 8 Sep 2010 | 11:35 AM ET

The recession has caused significant damage to jobs and the stock market. But there's one silver lining worth toasting: a surge in "happy hour" offerings for early-bird revelers.

Jeff Hutchens | Getty Images

“With the economy continuing to put a strain on consumers and people constantly looking for great deals, we are definitely in the midst of a happy hour boom,” Jeff Khadavi, co-founder of GoTime Corp., tells CNBC.

Through its website, GoTime.com, and its recently-launched mobile application, Happy Hours, the Seattle-based company provides information on more than 250,000 bars and restaurants across 60 cities. GoTime uses its staff, its media partners in various cities, its users and individual business owners to help it keep an up-to-date database of happy hour offerings --normally between 5 pm to 7 pm-- in the markets it covers.

Khadavi says through this gathering of information, he has seen a noticeable uptick in venues offering happy hour discounts as well as customers seeking out such deals. He points to his company’s recently launched Happy Hours app, which lets users search for happy hour deals in their location, already has nearly 500,000 users.

“People are actively looking for this kind of information and businesses are targeting people accordingly,” says Khadavi.

It’s not just local pubs that are boosting their happy hour offerings. Nationwide restaurant chains PF Chang’s China Bistro and The Cheesecake Factory have jumped on the happy hour bandwagon this year.

The Cheesecake Factory, which has been serving alcohol since it opened its doors in 1978, launched its first-ever happy hour program at select locations in February with $5 specialty cocktails and $5 full-size appetizers from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“The Cheesecake Factory has never done anything like this in over 32 years, and we felt the time was right given the economic situation, so more guests could enjoy the Cheesecake Factory experience,” says Mark Mears, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of The Cheesecake Factory.

Mears adds the restaurant chain has seen an increase in traffic this quarter and is “bouncing back quite nicely” but did not say whether the new happy hour menu affected the improvement.

What Makes a Good Happy Hour?

Khadavi says there are three main ingredients for a good happy hour recipe: a deep discount, a good length of time and a wide selection of food and drink offerings.

“One common misconception about happy hours is that they only consist of drink deals,” explains Khadavi. “However, some of the best happy hours around feature discounts on popular dishes and places will oftentimes have a dedicated happy hour food menu.”

One of his personal favorite happy hour trends is the “reverse happy hour,” which occurs later in the evening, usually around 9 p.m.

Best Happy Hour Cities

To be considered a good happy hour city, according to Khadavi, a location must have a wide variety of happy hour deals, different types of happy hour venues (i.e. upscale bars and dives), a good bar and restaurant scene, deep discounts and a large selection of happy hours per square mile.

“There are some cities where there are multiple happy hours going on in condensed areas, and that always helps because people have more options to choose from,” he adds.

The Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, for instance, boasts more happy hours per square mile than any other neighborhood in the country, making San Diego one of Khadavi’s top-rated cities.

Happy Hour: Good for Your Career?

If you’re enjoying happy hour drinks with your colleagues, there may be benefits besides saving money.

Happy Hour: Good for Your Career?
If you're always turning down Happy Hour invitations from colleagues, you might want to reconsider. CNBC's Brooke Sopelsa has the story.

Professor Joan Rentsch, director of the industrial and organizational psychology program at the University of Tennessee, says socializing with coworkers can improve team collaboration, employee productivity and organizational commitment.

“Typically the more we get to know people and the more we interact with them and the more that we can see that we have common values, then the more emotional attachment we may gain to those people and to the organization,” she explains.

However, if you’re enjoying a cocktail with your officemates, Rentsch says proceed with a bit of caution.

“You have to go back to work with these people the next day, so keeping in mind that you’re not out there with your good buddies and your BFFs, but rather that you’re with your coworkers is highly recommended,” she adds.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re relaxing with a martini, celebrating a special occasion with a glass of wine or bonding with your colleagues over a beer, take comfort in knowing that in these hard economic times, it will probably cost you about half the price to do so.

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