Pubs and Clubs Embrace Happy Hour

Happy hour | BCBusiness
Chain establishments, like Donnelly Group, have seen an uptick in business since B.C.’s liquor law changes came into effect.

To the ironic rally of ‘welcome less to the 21st century, more to the 20th,’ one of Vancouver’s leading hospitality groups is all sip, sip hooray at the launch of the provincial government’s new happy-hour regulations

The Donnelly Group, which has a total of 18 establishments including pubs and nightclubs throughout the city, says it saw a substantial uptick in patrons during the first week of the ban’s lifting if fuller patios were any indication.
Damon Holowchak, its marketing director, believes the change will grow in popularity and that “businesses around town should definitely see the value on their bottom line.”  
Commenting on “a great turn out” for the 3pm-6pm happy-hour slot, which now highlights a range of drinks at $3 across the chain, Holowchak says, “The general consensus from our patrons last night was that happy hour was a step in the right direction in terms of building a great after-work culture.”
That cultural move is the main focus for Jeff Donnelly, founder and president of group. He’s excited at having more folk get together at the end of work during the happy-hour period positioned after those in finance and other segments of the workforce finish. “We’re not going to get rich with $3 drinks—we may not even break even,” he continues, “but we don’t mind because it encourages people to come down and socialize, or perhaps sample a product that may be you wouldn’t have sampled.”
During the industry’s campaign to change the law, he explains how research across North America pointed to the notion that the best business ideas did not emanate necessarily from a boardroom. “They come over a beer with a partner and colleague afterwards when you’re on social time, when you’re getting together talking about it with your boss,” he proffers. “We’re in a city where we don’t have a lot of that after-work social culture—so if there’s any way we can create it, it might be good for business and drum up some ideas.”
Besides, happy hours are simply expected in metropolitan cities, especially by tourists used to it in other countries, he adds. “Some of our liquor laws were a bit embarrassing quite frankly,” Donnelly comments. “Our campaign slogan was welcome to the 21st century—but it may well have been welcome to the 20th century. It was a long time coming.” Holowchak adds that the group sees it “as the end of a prohibition of sorts in B.C.”
With some bars reportedly having to raise their prices to be in line with the government’s new minimum—in talks with health advocates, it set beer at 25 cents per ounce, plus sales taxes—Donnelly says that he’s not sure businesses should be forced to do this.
While it does not affect his chain: “We wouldn’t lower the price than that anyways; we’re not trying to get everybody drunk and make it a big mess,” he suggests, “If it’s going to affect their business, then perhaps there needs to be a change there.”
It may still take time for Vancouverites to fully embed the happy hour concept into their routine, Holowchak opined, adding that it was still early days and some residents were not aware of the change.
But both were optimistic. “We’re going to see some interesting things come out of this and hopefully it creates a pretty cool culture,” Donnelly concludes.