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Happy hour is a marketing term for a period of time in which a public venue, such as a restaurant, bar, bowling alley, stadium, or state/county fair, offers discounts on alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine, and cocktails. Free Hors d'oeuvres, appetizers and discounted menu items are often served during Happy hour.
The words "happy" and "hour" have appeared together for centuries when describing pleasant times. In act I, scene 2 of William Shakespeare's King Henry V (said to have been written in about 1599), for example, King Henry says, "Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour That may give furtherance to our expedition . . . ." The use of the phrase, "Happy Hour," to refer to a scheduled period of entertainment, however, is of much more recent vintage.
One possible origin of the term "Happy Hour," in the sense of a scheduled period of entertainment, is from the United States Navy. In early 1913, a group of "home makers" called the "Happy Hour Social" organized "semi-weekly smokers" on board the U.S.S. Arkansas (BB 33). The name "Happy Hour Club," "Happy Hour Social Club," and similar variants, had been in use as the names of social clubs, primarily by women's social clubs, since at least the early 1880s. By June 1913, the crew of the USS Arkansas had started referring to their regularly scheduled smokers as "Happy Hours." The "Happy Hours" included a variety of entertainment, including boxing and wrestling matches, music, dancing and movies. By the end of World War I, the practice of holding "Happy Hours" had spread throughout the entire Navy.
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, people would host "cocktail hours", also known as "happy hours", at a speakeasy (an illegal drinking establishment) before eating at restaurants where alcohol could not be served. Cocktail lounges continued the trend of drinking before dinner.
The Random House Dictionary of American Slang dates "Happy hour," as a term for afternoon drinks in a bar, to a Saturday Evening Post article on military life in 1959. That article detailed the lives of government contractors and military personnel who worked at missile-tracking facilities in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. "Except for those who spend too much during “happy hour” at the bar – and there are few of these – the money mounts up fast." Barry Popick's online etymology dictionary, The Big Apple, lists several pre-1959 citations to "Happy Hour" in print, mostly from places near Naval bases in California, from as early 1951.
Massachusetts was one of the first U.S. states to implement a state-wide ban on happy hours in 1984. Other U.S. states also have similar restrictions, including Illinois and North Carolina. Reason being for each ban varies, but most are for safety and health reasons.
In 1984, the U.S. military abolished happy hours at military base clubs.
In 2011, the Utah State Legislature passed a ban on happy-hours, effective January 1, 2012.
The Canadian province of Alberta created restrictions to happy hours that took effect in August 2008. All such promotions must end at 8 pm, and drink prices must conform to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission's minimum price regulations at all times.
In Ontario, while establishments may vary liquor prices as long as they stay above the minimum prices set by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, they are not permitted to advertise these prices "in a manner that may promote immoderate consumption." In particular, the phrase "happy hour" may not be used in such advertisement.
Happy hour has been illegal in the Republic of Ireland since 2003 under the Intoxicating Liquor Act.
The KHN, a hospitality sector lobby group, has agreed with its members to stop happy hours to discourage binge drinking by youth, but only if the government would vote to not raise the minimum drinking age. In March 2013, the law to raise the drinking age to 18 was passed.
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