As some office workers return, happy hour sees a shaky comeback

With the unsteady return of workers to the office comes the shaky return of happy hour.

Beer Authority’s second-floor bar in Times Square was nearly full when Peter Torres and Jimmy Pazan, both 29, walked in on a Wednesday night last month, but they managed to find two open stools on the corner in front of a television. broadcast of sports highlights.

The two, who were hired by a downtown bank during the pandemic and began returning in person over the past year, had just finished their shift.

“After a particularly tough day at the branch, we’re going out,” said Pazan, whose drink of choice is a whiskey and ginger ale.

“It’s not planned; it happens,” said Torres, who prefers a Stella Artois.

With more than 40 people at the bar, general manager Aoife Canny said it was slower than it had been in recent weeks.

Even as businesses struggle to get workers back to the office, some bars are reporting that weekday happy hour, an institution that’s been around since the 1930s, is reaching a semblance of a pre-pandemic era. With office occupancy nationwide averaging 41% — less than half the pre-pandemic level of 99%, according to workplace security firm Kastle Systems — central business districts are emptier than they weren’t in 2019.

Yet those who are back in the office return to the bar after work.

Melisa Rodriguez, 24, and Samaya Mayes, 22, employees of an events company in downtown New York, joined a dozen colleagues for an impromptu happy hour at Beer Authority on a recent Wednesday. Their company is back in the office twice a week.

“It’s a good break to focus on work,” Rodriguez said, adding that it provides a break between the work day and her commute home.

Newly hired Mayes enjoys the company of her colleagues outside of the office. “It’s a time to be ourselves and not be uptight,” she said.

The pandemic has closed about 90,000 bars and restaurants nationwide over the past two years, according to the National Restaurant Association; establishments that have survived or have since opened face fewer customers and inconsistent business as coronavirus cases in the United States hover around 110,000 a day, according to a New York Times database. And soaring prices for gasoline, groceries and other goods have been “a kind of double whammy for happy hours, especially when consumers may feel uncomfortable spending” said Emily Moquin, food and beverage analyst for Morning Consult.

At Jimmy’s Corner in Times Square, Adam Glenn, the owner, said that before the pandemic forces his bar to close for 18 months, happy hour crowds will start arriving before most offices close. .

“If you weren’t there by 5 p.m., you probably weren’t able to sit down,” Glenn said. “You’d be up, and we’d be thrilled.” The bar has been in his family for 50 years.

But even as more offices reopen or require workers to return on certain days, happy hour at Jimmy’s Corner is still not what it was before the pandemic.

“We are, I would say, much closer to where we were before and really happy with how things have grown since we reopened in October,” Glenn said. “But it’s still not quite the same after-work, pre-theater crowd that we used to have.”

Empty offices have had a ripple effect on central business districts, Moquin said.

“These shifting working hours absolutely mean less business for bars and restaurants, less traffic to come through the door,” she said. “These hybrid work schedules and work-from-home schedules are having an impact.” Average monthly visits to a bar have dipped – and were 1.5 in February and 1.2 in March, according to the most recent data from Morning Consult.

Jimmy’s Corner has also faced what Glenn called “little bumps” in recent months, including omicron’s winter surge and a flurry of Broadway closures. Two musicals – ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘Tina’ – recently announced that they will end their tours this summer. Glenn said his happy hour doesn’t have the “consistency and predictability” it used to.

At Everson Royce Bar in Los Angeles, general manager Jason Moore said big bands have started returning for happy hour, including a 50-person release from Spotify.

“You can definitely tell the difference from the start of the year when everyone was still a little freaked out about the new variation,” said Moore, who books large groups for the bar.

Happy hours at the bar vary in size, from a few co-workers dropping by for drinks to large groups calling in to reserve tables, Moore said.

He added that this summer, Everson Royce Bar was expecting even larger groups of people for drinks after work.

“This summer is going to jump,” he said. “We’re going to see pre-pandemic numbers — if not bigger than pre-pandemic numbers — just because more and more people are holding back.”

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Post expires at 12:52am on Tuesday June 28th, 2022