One of the biggest challenge any drinking establishment faces is attracting customers, especially during the less popular late afternoon and early evening hours. Some customers may stop in for a few after-work drinks before going home, but many bars remain relatively empty until at least 8 or 9 o'clock. To attract more customers during the slower times, many bars offer discounted beverages and other special treats during a time period known as happy hour.
Some happy hour events may only last for a true 60 minute hour, but many start at 4 or 5 pm and can last until the regular crowds start to arrive at 8 or 9pm. During this time, the establishment's owners may offer customers free or reduced appetizers to accompany their discounted drinks. It would not be unusual to see a small buffet line set up with a variety of snack foods during happy hour. Sometimes the food is offered for free as a loss leader for more expensive drinks.
During happy hour, customers may also benefit from special promotions, such as penny beer night or a theme party. A selected mixed drink or cocktail may be offered at a significant discount during this time. The point of having these times is to attract professionals and shift workers looking for a place to unwind after work. Happy hour would make both the bar owner and patrons happy, since business would increase during a traditionally slow time period and the discounted or free food offered with the beverages provide a meal for customers.
No one is quite sure when or where the first official happy hour occurred. The earliest use in print is said to be a 1961 article describing politicians who may have to give up their usual "happy hour" in order to vote. This seems to indicate that the term was in popular use by the 1960s. Theatrical groups in Victorian England often used the phrase "happy hours" as a Cockney-style rhyme for "flowers," but the origin of the phrase in that sense is not clear.