These days everything is available online. Restaurant menus can be scouted ahead. If the owners even half knows what they’re doing, the menu will read well. How can you tell the difference between a good deal and a culinary trap?
Brand names in the drinks selections
Without alcoholic beverages, happy hour is just a late lunch. Happy hour is all about the drinks. Choose wrongly and you are left with cheap alcohol masked in cocktails by heaps of sugar. At their worst, the wines will not even compare with something you use for cooking.
Avoid this by looking for drink menus that offer specific brand names. Tito’s vodka, Bulleit’s bourbon, for example. If the food establishment lists the liquors they are using it means they are proud of it. If not, they might be hiding something. Always ask what are the house wines and the well liquors to avoid disappointment. Check out the beer selection on tap. If worse comes to worst you can always count on beer to be consistently good.
So you read the menu and see Italian, Mexican, Asian and classic American items. Good, right? Something for everyone.
Wrong. Establishments that try to do too much usually do nothing well. Look for a theme. What is the identity of the menu? Search for a tightly built menu, offering a few well-thought items that sound good to you. Chances are that if the menu is smaller the kitchen staff has fewer chances to mess up.
Nachos, pretzels, chips, and salsa? Great. We sometimes order them for our kids. Every happy hour menu will contain at least one of these items, but too many of them and all you have are, what we like to fondly refer to in the industry, fillers. They represent a lot of carbs and cost the restaurant nearly nothing. Look for menu items that have descriptions of proteins and vegetables, representing a good value that has some nutrition in it.
Scrumptious, succulent, creamy and mouthwatering. Sounds too good to be true? You are usually right. I like my menu to be mostly about ingredients. I don’t need to know how they cooked it, hopefully, the kitchen staff did. I don’t need the menu to tell me how the food is going to feel, I’ll make my own judgement. Some words sell menu items. By now I know that and treat it as a warning. Why do they want me to order it? Too many flowery descriptions and I get the feeling that the menu is a greasy sales person trying to pull a fast one on me.
Time and place
Make a note of the exact time that the happy hour menu is served, some restaurants can have strange time slots. More importantly, check where is the happy hour menu served. Some restaurants will allow the happy hour menu to be served throughout the restaurant while other establishments have it available only at the bar and lounge, which might not work for you if you have kids.
You finally decided on the perfect happy hour and got to the restaurant. Don’t be afraid to ask for the server recommendations. They want you to be happy, you’ll leave a better tip. We always sneak looks onto other tables and if we see something we like we inquire about it.
Finally, be adventurous, get out of your comfort zone. Even if you made a mistake in your restaurant selection, you can take comfort in the fact that it wasn’t a costly one and tomorrow there is always a new happy hour…