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The positive of Prohibition times, you ask? Why, the birth of the happy hour tradition, of course!  After a long day at work, what better way to commiserate and lift your spirits than among friends and discounted drinks? Despite some controversy and resulting restrictions regarding happy hour, this ritual is observed throughout France and in most states in the USA. Happy hour may have originated in America, but France offers some fierce competition. Who does it better? Let’s compare the essential components.  


In the USA, happy hour can be found in many bars and some restaurants. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking if happy hour is restricted to a certain area. It only takes one time of sitting on the outdoor patio and getting your bill of full-price drinks to never let that mistake happen again! I’ve found the most common restriction is to the bar area, when having happy hour in a restaurant, which is understandable.

In France, happy hour can be found in cafés, bars, and some restaurants. I’ve never encountered any restrictions on where you have to sit during this happy hour time. You are welcome to sit outside, if that’s an option, although finding a good seat can get competitive in high traffic areas. Many cafés have partially sheltered and/or heated terraces so that the fun doesn’t have to stop on a rainy day or in the winter time (get yourself a vin chaud during the holiday season!). Drinking while people watching, for the win. 

USA – 0, France – 1

outdoor seating for happy hour in Paris


It’s typical to find happy hours during the daily lull in service, in order to attract people after work and before dinner. Generally, American happy hours are limited to two to three hours and are only during the work week. Common time frames are 4pm to 6pm and 5pm to 7pm. All too often, happy hour is over before someone working a conventional 9-5 job is able to join in on the festivities. Some bars offer a late night happy hour, lasting a couple of hours.

In France, the happy hour time frame tends to be a bit longer, often three to four hours. Most happy hours start around 5pm or 6pm and last until 8pm or 9pm. This is reflective of France’s typical dinner time – closer to 8pm. Did I mention that happy hour is every day? Here in France, I’ve never felt like I had to rush to a bar to get my happy hour fix before time ran out.

USA – 0, France – 2

happy hours signs in Paris
Should I try the Monkey Jam Sour?

What’s on the menu?

In the USA, wine, beer and well cocktails are most commonly offered, but I’ve also come across a huge variety of deals. From buy one get one free to half-price drinks to themed nights, like Margarita Monday, to daily specials, like a discounted shot or beer, you never know what might await you at a bar you’ve never been to. You are occasionally offered something free to snack on, such as peanuts, pretzels, or popcorn, but don’t count on it. Bars and restaurants are hoping that you will buy something off of the happy hour menu, which may include half-price appetizers or special small plates.

France also offers wine, beer and classic cocktails on their happy hour menus. The offers are not as creative, as they just indicate a set discount or price. Bars in France are only allowed to offer happy hour discounts on alcoholic drinks if they also offer a reduction on nonalcoholic drinks, which is nice if someone in your friend group doesn’t drink. A free, salty snack will often be brought your way with every round of drinks: peanuts, chips, or popcorn. While I appreciate the offered snack on France’s part, this round goes to the Americans for their creativity and variety.

USA – 1, France – 2

beer and popcorn for happy hour in Paris
Santé! Cheers!

Who wins?

Americans may be responsible for the creation of happy hour, but the French made it better, in my opinion! I think the timing and ambiance chez les Français outweigh America’s diverse offerings. What do you think? Maybe more research is required before we decide definitively…

Happy Hour: USA versus France
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2 thoughts on “Happy Hour: USA versus France

  • September 16, 2019 at 11:02 am

    You have hit it right in the final paragraph. Timing and ambiance. As in many other things, the French may not have “invented it”, but they have perfected it. How does one say “carjacking”, “debriefing”, “brain trust” in English? As the Germans say, « Glücklich wie Gott in Frankreich ». (Happy like God in France.). Does that mean that God lives in France? or given that God can live where he wants to live, God has chosen France?

    • September 24, 2019 at 11:12 am

      That’s an interesting expression. I hadn’t heard it before! Wherever He is, I hope He’s enjoying a good happy hour 😀


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