Why you should care

Say goodbye to the $8 beer in NYC.

Like many New Yorkers, Jay Reno likes to meet up with friends after work for a few drinks. But Reno — like the 92 percent of U.S. full-time workers who put in 40-plus hours a week — found that his late work hours meant he was missing out on happy hour deals. So he helped create an app, Happy Any Hour, a sort of happy-hour-on-demand option for drinking in NYC.

The premise is simple. The app uses your cellphone’s GPS to alert you to participating bars with happy hour deals in your area. Once you’ve decided where to imbibe, head to the bar, show the bartender your cellphone and press the “start” button; a timer will then count down 60 minutes, during which you get access to the bar’s happy hour specials. After the hour’s up, you can stay put or find another venue and start a new happy hour. “You can essentially happy hop from bar to bar,” Reno says. However, once the time starts, you can’t re-use the app at the same venue that night.

It’s not about drinking per se. It’s about connecting people — and with happy hour discounts on food.

Jay Reno

It’s kind of like a coupon-on-demand service, but Reno stresses that he’s not trying to emulate Groupon. Although functionally the app offers time-based discounts, for Reno it’s about “bringing people together with their friends, and solving the $8 beer problem.” The team at Happy Any Hour personally visits and curates all the venues that are signed up because they want to maintain quality at every price point: a dive bar can’t just be cheap, and an upscale cocktail bar must mix awesome Manhattans.

The app is free to use and available on Android and iPhone. It’s also free for bars to sign up; they simply agree to extend their current happy hours. For now, the app is about building a user base and “driving foot traffic to bars during the slower part of the day,” Reno says. In the future he hopes to create a monetizable premium layer that provides access to data that’s collected. So far, there are more than 50 bars to choose from, mostly in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. The idea is to saturate NYC and then expand, most likely to the West Coast.

The downside? For now, the location of the bars is limiting — not everyone wants to trek downtown. And then there’s the temptation to overindulge. Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, warns people not to abuse happy hours, because binge drinking can lead to impairment. He thinks social drinking is fine but happy hours can lead to excess, since people rush to drink in the allotted time.

Reno hopes that by marketing the app to young professionals, he will deter its use by alcoholics. “It’s not about drinking per se,” he says, it’s about connecting people — and with happy hour discounts on food.

Could this be the end to a real problem in Manhattan — forking out for those $20 cocktails? We’ll drink to that.

This OZY encore was originally published Feb. 17, 2015.

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