Happy hour is a specially scheduled period of time — perhaps an hour or two in the late afternoon — during which some restaurants and bars give discounts for drinks, especially alcoholic drinks, thereby encouraging patrons to order more alcoholic drinks, and to drink them in that restaurant. It is also used strategically by venues in coordination with lock-in times to attract patrons to a venue at certain times.
The term originated in the United States Navy. In the 1920s, “happy hour” was Navy slang for on-ship performances. “Happy” in this context means slightly drunk.
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, citizens would host “cocktail hours” or “happy hours” at a speakeasy — underground drinking establishments — before eating at restaurants where alcohol could not be served. Cocktail lounges continued the trend of drinking before dinner. “Happy hour” entered civilian use around 1960, especially after a Saturday Evening Post article in 1959. Happy hour has become a tradition for many workers, white and blue collar.
The push against drunk driving and alcohol abuse has curtailed the rise of the happy hour to some extent. In the 1980s, bars started providing free hors d'oeuvres to lower the blood alcohol content of patrons. Glasgow has banned happy hour to reduce binge drinking. Even the military got in the act, when in 1984 the military abolished happy hours at military base clubs.
Despite the controversy, happy hour is still alive and well at bars and clubs in all corners of the globe.