How to Enjoy Happy Hour for Less

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For consumers who enjoy a night out drinking, it’s often the discounts that put the “happy” in “happy hour.”

After all, in the age of celebrity bartenders and artisanal and organic cocktails, it’s easy for a few drinks to result in a substantial tab. The average Mint user in New York spent $1,474 on alcohol last year, according to our infographic, while those from Littleton, Colo., spent a wild $3,027.

Enjoying cocktails at home is one easy way to cut the bill, but it’s not as fun as going out with friends. (It’s not even necessarily as cheap, either, if you’re the one hosting and providing all the drinks and snacks.)

Here’s how to cut the bill on your next night out:

Look for deal vouchers. Deal sites like Groupon and Living Social regularly have bar and restaurant deals for half price, says Sarah Schneider, co-founder of daily deal management site Couptivate. Bodega Wine Bar in Los Angeles recently offered $22 worth of drinks for $10 on Groupon, and Tippr had $30 at Seattle’s Village Wine Bar and Bistro for $15. and have deals solely on cocktails and wine experiences. If you miss a deal, check secondhand sites like and, where people can sell unwanted deals.

Learn the code. Bars often post exclusive deals on Facebook and Twitter. To claim them, you need only say the code word. During October, saying “twitter” at Havana Sol in Vallejo, Calif., would have saved you $1 on a draft beer. “Rich and rare” triggered $3 Heineken bottles at RnR Restaurant and Bar in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Check in. Use social media to announce that you’re in the house. Bars may offer specials to visitors checking in on Foursquare, and sweeten the deal further for the mayor. If you live in San Francisco, new startup JoynIn lets you unlock drink specials when you head out with Facebook friends, and earn rewards for future happy hours. (Spokesman Brenton Geiser says versions for New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are in the works.)

Calculate BYOB. It’s usually cheap, but not always — Frugal Foodie was at a restaurant recently that charged a $30 corkage fee. That was enough that her party could have bought four glasses of the house red. Use BYOB resource to see what a restaurant will charge.

Buy a round. Free iPhone and Android app Bartab lets you buy drinks at participating bars for $1 and send them as a virtual gift to friends, says Schneider.  You can also send them to yourself. For example, Taverna Aventine in San Francisco offers $1 Guiness, Stella and Black Star beers, and $1 well drinks. You and your friends have 90 days to redeem purchased or received drinks.

Befriend a bartender. Mint reader Nathan Richardson suggests heading out for the local industry night, when bars offer half-priced drinks or other specials for people who work in the restaurant industry, as well as their friends. Being friendly to the bartender at your favorite watering hole can earn you the occasional free drink, as well as more generous pours.

Hunt for happy hour

These days, it’s more likely to be several hours, or an entire night. Some bars are even offering a.m. happy hours for brunch-goers and those who work odd hours. Sites like Unthirsty and apps like Happy Houred  help you find drink specials near you. Users can also post unadvertised deals they spot.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie

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