Bang for Your Buck: The Best Happy Hours Nationwide

Even the priciest chains offer deep discountsAhh, happy hour. That brief, shining window, generally during weekday afternoons, when bars roll back drink prices in an effort to lure in those who are able to take advantage of the free time and low prices. But while bars are still great sources of happy hours, plenty of restaurants are offering happy hours, too. And not just on drinks; they're knocking back prices on food as well. In fact, some of the country's best-known, and most expensive, chain restaurants offer little-known menus featuring incredibly inexpensive food and drink specials. You just need to know where to go and when to go. And that's what we're here for.

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Happy hour itself is nothing new, obviously. Bars have been offering cheap snacks and discounted drinks to lure in patrons during off-hours as far back as anyone can remember (or not remember, as the case may be). But restaurants, especially the large chains, offering a happy hour is a slightly newer development, and one that a lot of folks still might not know about.

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The main reason that a lot of these restaurants are offering these special deals is because overall business is down due to the recession, and restaurants need to find more ways to fill the seats. According to USA Today, sales at fast-casual restaurants like Ruby Tuesday were down 5.6 percent in 2009, when many of these happy hours first appeared on menus. "This is what you have to do to get business," Malcolm Knapp, who tracks the industry, told the newspaper. "People don't have enough money to eat out."

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So exactly how good are these deals? While each state has its own happy hour laws, believe it or not, most chains have been able to find a happy (hour) medium, offering drinks and appetizers at the bar for less than $10. And while casual eateries like Ruby Tuesday offer special prices, we've focused our ranking on some of the more expensive restaurants, where you really wouldn't expect to find something like a sliced filet mignon sandwich with béarnaise sauce and fries for just $7 (Ruth's Chris Steak House).

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Not every single outpost of these restaurants offers these deals, so you'll still want to call ahead, but we have a good feeling that after reading through our list you'll have found your newest "I got out of work early!" hangout.


Credit: Fleming'sFleming's
This chain of steakhouses might be on the expensive end of things, but that doesn't mean that they don't offer a solid happy hour at the bar. Their "5 for $6 'Til 7" happy hour is nothing short of a steal, with five top-shelf cocktails, five wines by the glass, and five appetizers (including pan-crisped pork belly, sweet chile calamari, beef carpaccio, and barbecue shrimp) all available for just $6 until 7 p.m., seven nights a week. Some locations even offer two Blue Moon seasonals for just six bucks as well.



Credit: Ruby TuesdayRuby Tuesday
Starting at 4 p.m. at all locations except for those in Manhattan and at airports, Ruby Tuesday offers $5 appetizers and, where permitted, $5 Absolut cocktails, seven nights a week. At the Paramus, N.J., location, for example, food and drink specials are available from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with food items including crabcakes, wings, spinach and artichoke dip, and shrimp fondue available for five bucks.



Credit: Red LobsterRed Lobster
At most Red Lobster locations, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, select beers are $3, wines are $4, and appetizers are $5. Those appetizers include chile ginger shrimp (left), Southwest chicken pizza, Buffalo chicken bites, fried calamari, and shrimp tacos.






Credit: P.F. Chang'sP.F. Chang's
This classy chain of Chinese restaurants offers a true bargain of a happy hour. While prices and hours vary according to location, that info is available if you search for your local outpost online. At the location in White Plains, N.Y., for example, the deal runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Beer starts at just $2.75, wines cost $5, and cocktails $6, and a wide assortment of dim sum and "street fare" sells for as low as $3. The most expensive item, crispy Dynamite shrimp, costs just $7.


Credit: flickr/ WillscrltMcCormick and Schmick's
Most outposts of McCormick and Schmick's, the chain best known for its steaks and seafood, offer one of the country's best happy hour menus. At the location in New York City, for example, their happy hour runs from 3:30 p.m. all the way until 7 p.m., Monday to Friday at the bar area. Beer starts at $4 for domestic drafts, well drinks are also just $4, select wine and cocktails are $6, and flavored martinis are $7. And if that's not enough to lure you through the door, check out the food menu: bruschetta, hummus, and fries are each just $2.95; a cheeseburger and fries is only $3.95; fried calamari, mussels, and spinach dip are $4.95; and fish tacos, peel-and-eat and firecracker shrimp, and wings are just $5.95. Now that's a happy hour we can love.


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- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal