Trends Spotlight: Happy Hour Trends in 2024

by | Jan 11, 2024

Happy hours may have been scarce during the pandemic, but now they’re back—this time with a few changes that reflect shifting attitudes and behaviors around alcohol. Not only are people drinking less, but their new normal may include hybrid working schedules, cooking more meals at home, and tighter budgets thanks to rising inflation.

The FlavorSum team explored happy hour trends to help you craft innovative flavored spirits, RTS, or spirit-based RTDs that align with how North Americans celebrate happy hours.

Budget-Friendly Premium Options

With inflation driving up the cost of food and drink, it’s not uncommon for a cocktail at a nice bar to be $20-$25. People who enjoy going out for a drink may opt for something less expensive than their usual or forego the experience altogether.

Positioning your beverage as an affordable luxury can help ease concerns about monthly budgets while still giving drinkers a way to treat themselves. In a recent blog investigating Premium RTD Cocktails, we noted people are willing to invest in premium options if they deliver on expectations for flavor, nutrition, or packaging. Co-branding your launch with a familiar or trusted name can also offer the reassurance of quality. Mintel found that 34% of American RTD buyers will try a cocktail made by a brand they like, and 31% are willing to spend more on premium ingredients.

TREND SPOTLIGHT: THE AMARO ASCENSION

The bitter-sweet liqueur is showing up more often in North American cocktails like an Aperol Spritz or Negroni. The amaro flavor profile gives drinkers a complex beverage without breaking the bank, leading to the rise of the “apéritif happy hour.”

Budget-Friendly Apertif Happy Hour

All Vibes, No Buzz

Americans, especially younger Americans, are drinking less. Innova reports one-third of consumers 18-25 say they never consume alcohol and our proprietary study found awareness and purchase of non-alcoholic RTDs and spirits is significantly higher among Gen Z and Millennials compared to older generations.

While the reasons for choosing a non-alcoholic drink are varied (healthfulness, moderation, enjoyment), a 0% ABV option includes non-drinkers in the community and camaraderie of happy hour. Consider using non-alc messaging that validates and empowers someone’s decision not to drink while still delivering a happy hour vibe through complex flavors or functional ingredients like adaptogens.

TREND SPOTLIGHT: AFTERNOON “TEA” IN NO-ALC COCKTAIL FORM

The varietals of tea offer developers a range of “bases” to create a non-alcoholic drink with the nuances people expect from cocktails. From the earthy notes of green tea to the fruity tastes in oolong or a sweet, nutty rooibos, teas pack a punch in a no-alc beverage.

Midweek Is the New Friday

Sure, you’ve heard of Taco Tuesday, but what about Mojito Mondays or Thirsty Thursdays? Hybrid work schedules are making Friday happy hours a relic of the “before times,” back when downtown offices were full and working 9 to 5 in the city was the norm.

For bars in New York City, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are now the busiest nights for happy hours and work-related gatherings since more people “badge-in” mid-week. Happy hours have also shifted to earlier in the day to accommodate people who want to avoid staying out late on a work night.

The social listening platform Tastewise reveals social conversations around happy hours are trending up for every day of the work week, with Wednesday and Thursday “hot topics.”

  • Happy Hour + Monday has grown 29.36%
  • Happy Hour + Tuesday has grown by 21.48%
  • Happy Hour + Wednesday has grown 36.94%
  • Happy Hour + Thursday has grown 32.97%
  • Happy Hour + Friday has grown by 24.12%

Restaurant and bar owners are adapting marketing strategies for mid-week happy hours, offering theme nights, enticing appetizers, drink specials, and booking DJs or bands.

TREND SPOTLIGHT: CLASSICS OR CREATIVE COCKTAILS CONNECT IN MID-WEEK HAPPY HOURS

Well-known drinks like an Old Fashioned or Daiquiri will garner rave reviews, especially at discounted happy hour prices. Interest piques in twists like a mint peach bourbon smash or a tequila cobbler blended with manzanilla sherry and watermelon. Remember, seasonal flavor profiles can create extra buzz throughout the year.

Going Out Without Leaving the House

According to the Wall Street Journal, more people are drawing boundaries between work and the rest of their lives. They clock out at 5:00 on the dot and head home rather than socialize with co-workers or attend company events. If they do decide to go out, events are more appealing if they happen during the afternoon or wrap up before 6:30 pm.

Virtual happy hours, while not quite the phenomenon they were during the pandemic, haven’t entirely died out as expected. According to Bartender Planet, 55% of Americans participated in a virtual happy hour during the pandemic and 39% planned to continue their remote parties. Whether organized by a company or a group of friends, a virtual happy hour is a chance to connect with co-workers or friends without staying out late, arranging transportation, or finding a babysitter for the kids.

Virtual Happy Hour - Cocktail sitting in front of a laptop screen with people attending the event

TREND SPOTLIGHT: RTS OR RTDS FOR EASIER VIRTUAL HAPPY HOURS

Virtual happy hours point toward the opportunity for large-format cocktails and the convenience of spirit-based RTDs. The low effort of both approaches offers people a quality drinking experience with no bartending background required. Happy Hour kits for virtual gatherings are generating social discussions, with Tastewise reporting conversations up +4% in the past year.

Find Flavors to Deliver Trendy Happy Hour Hits

Whether you’re exploring flavored spirits, RTS, or spirit-based RTDs, FlavorSum’s team of flavorists and alcoholic beverage applications experts can help with NPD. Let’s find your next winning flavor for happy hour. Getting started is simple. All you have to do is tell us a bit about your idea and one of our applications experts will be in touch.