Workers aren’t going to the office, but they are hitting the bars

Workers aren’t going to the office, but they are hitting the bars
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Rooftop happy hour
Workers are still showing up for happy hours.

  • Although office attendance has slipped, happy hour spending is still higher than pre-pandemic.
  • Happy hour can help coworkers to get to know each other better than they might on the job.
  • Still, some workers say they’re careful not to over-indulge around their colleagues.

Zachary Timms, a project engineer in Houston, has rules around how he does happy hour with coworkers.

The first is to stay one drink behind everyone else. The second: Never leave last. Yet despite the seemingly buzz-kill vibes, the 26-year-old’s self-imposed limits don’t put the kibosh on fun.

“I love happy hours,” Timms told Business Insider. “It gives me an opportunity to show more of my personality” around colleagues, he said.

Zachary Timms
Timms is sure to stick to his self-imposed guidelines when socializing with coworkers.

He’s not alone in loving the chance for drinks and catch-ups with coworkers. While our working routines have changed since the pandemic — remember long Fridays in the office? — some things haven’t shifted as much as many might expect in the four years since lockdowns. Sure, there was that period of awkward Zoom beverages, but now that people are back out of the house, they’re still shelling out for late-afternoon drinks.

Happy hour isn’t quite as much of many restaurants’ business as in 2020. That’s when people who could work from home — and who might be craving connection — might head to their local bar or restaurant in the late afternoon to socialize (albeit outside). However, happy hour spending is still above 2019 levels in many large US cities, according to data provided to Business Insider by tech company Square.

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The slice of US restaurant spending that occurred from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. peaked at 8.26% in 2020, Square data show. But happy hour’s 7.66% share in 2023 was still up from 7.34% in 2019.

And now, Square's figures, based on billions of transactions annually in the US, show Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are happy hour heavyweights compared with the start of the workweek. That aligns with some of the busier days in the office.

Getting 'a chance to breathe.'

Shadé Smith, a finance manager in New York who works in an office part of the time, told BI her hybrid setup can make it hard to get to know her coworkers. So, she tries to head to as many in-person social gatherings as possible.

"Sometimes I'm anxious about showing them my full personality at happy hour, but I've actually made great friends over the last three years," she said.

Timms also sees it as a way to let go of some of the stress that comes from working in engineering consulting. "Happy hours give me and my coworkers a chance to breathe," he said.

People are also generally spending more dining out than before the pandemic, even after adjusting for inflation, Ara Kharazian, research and data lead at Square, told BI.

While part of that comes from an uptick on weekends, part of that comes from a readjustment of weekday budgets. People aren't springing as often for midday sandwiches and salads in downtown business districts, data from Square show — likely because they're in the office less often. That maybe leaves some cash for happy hour.

Let's not forget a key factor that might be driving 4 p.m.-6 p.m. spending: The perception you're getting a good deal. Bars and restaurants often offer discounts on food and drink during this time, an attractive factor to Americans seeking a bargain amid higher prices.

And early evening drinks are popular because they're open to everyone. While weekday lunches downtown might be more of a thing for office workers, Kharazian notes that a late-afternoon pint and plate of nachos isn't as confined to the office crowd. "You don't have to be at work to go to happy hour," he said.

"When you are working from home remotely, 5 o'clock is the earliest you can go out, and people are eager to do that," Kharazian said.

Post-work drinks are alive and well in NYC.

Late-afternoon spending may have slipped in New York, per Square data, but post-work socializing seems to be going strong later in the evening for office workers. The bars around NYC's Wall Street — predominantly a business area — are often slow during the afternoon. Traffic then picks up around 6 p.m. when the 9-to-5ers show up.

Ulysses, an Irish pub in the area, is so busy after work that it stays open later than neighboring bars (apparently, some finance bros like to party until 4 a.m. during the week).

Despite some social media complaints about happy hour-induced hangovers, several NYC bartenders told BI the post-work stretch was still their busiest time during the week.

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But while people seem keen to socialize again, drinking can become a minefield when it's with coworkers — just like it was before the pandemic. Seasoned employees warning younger colleagues about bringing out their "weekend personality" at work happy hour haven't always deterred the newest class. Again, nothing new.

One TikToker shared her excitement for 5:01 p.m. this summer and the start of happy hour with colleagues. But others on the platform urged caution because of what can happen when people drink too much around coworkers.

"Just a quick reminder that you were actually more drunk and annoying at that work happy hour than you remember," TikToker Jack Lawler advised. "Just want to make sure that you remember that the damage you created that night is irreversible."

And DeAndre Brown, who offers advice for Gen Zers and others navigating the corporate world, says it's best to stick to water. "These people are not your friends, OK? You work with them, and liquor makes you do nothing but tell too much of your business," he said in one video. "If you're feeling zesty, add a lime."

Read the original article on Business Insider


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