These days, every bar and restaurant on the block claims to have “specialty hand-crafted cocktails” that can set you back $15 for just one drink. And with the craft beer craze and fancy biodynamic wines abounding, plus the $8 small plates you order in between, it’s easy to spend $50 even when you just want to grab a quick drink or two with a friend. But there are plenty of strategies for hitting happy hour like a boss without over-drafting your checking account.
Ready to sip smarter? Here are some happy hour hacks for when you want to have fun and keep your spending in check.
Sip water in between drinks
You’ve heard it before, and while it may sound like the ultimate buzzkill, alternating your cocktails with glasses of water truly makes a world of difference. For one, hydrating keeps you from getting too sloppy from pounding back-to-back $5 well drinks. It also cuts your bar tab in half if you’re replacing every other drink with H2O. Still not convinced? Remember that doing this cuts your calorie intake in half, too, so you don’t completely undo your ClassPass efforts. If plain water sounds unappealing, try ordering a glass of soda water with lime or a splash of cranberry juice.
Go ahead and order the bottle
If you’re with a group of friends and you all go for a glass of pinot noir, it’s much more economical to split full bottle that order individually priced glasses. Same goes for mixed cocktails like blended margaritas or sangria. If you have four or more people, it generally makes sense and saves everyone a little cash to order pitchers instead. This is also a useful brunch tip. If the restaurant doesn’t have a “bottomless” option for mimosas, then ordering a couple pitchers is definitely the way to go. However, only spring for the bottle or pitcher if you’re sure you’ll want more than one drink—you’re not saving yourself any cash if you don’t finish it.
Seek out spots with cheap—or free—food
Some restaurant bars are smart and realize that people who are drinking also want to get their snack on, so they offer up free or discounted bites. Scope out the spots in your neighborhood that offer this. For example, some Italian spots celebrate the tradition of the apertivo, or pre-dinner snacking and light cocktails, so you’ll find free hot items for all bar patrons. At other restaurants, you’ll find appetizers and dinner items from the regular menu are discounted during happy hour. Having something to eat will slow you down from ordering one too many glasses of wine—and taking advantage of happy hour prices on food will save you from an expensive late-night food delivery order.
Try a late-night happy hour
While the traditional happy hour is somewhere in the 5-7 p.m. time frame, if you’re not feeling a drink right after work, many bars are starting to offer a second happy hour around 10 or 11 p.m. Do a quick Google search to see which places in your city offer this and you’ll save yourself a bundle, no matter what time of the night it is. If you’re a happy hour pro, you can hop from an early happy hour straight to a late-night one to keep things wallet-friendly all night long.
Opt for beer
Usually, beer is cheaper during happy hour than wine or liquor. If beer is too heavy for you, you can keep it light with beers like Michelob Ultra or Corona Light, which are especially refreshing during the hot summer months. At many bars, beers run for around $3 a pop during happy hour, so you can easily keep your total spend to about 10 bucks. If you like beer as much as wine and cocktails, go for beer during happy hour and save the vino and specialty drinks for special occasions or for when you’re drinking at home.
Give yourself a cash allowance
Sometimes opening a bar tab with your credit card can get you into trouble, as it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re even spending. An easy way to avoid this? Decide ahead of time how much you’re able to spend, and bring that money with you in cash. This will keep you much more cognizant of how much everything costs and just how much you’re ordering. Once the money runs out, you’re done for the night.