A Style Guide for Happy Hour References
Raise your hand if you’ve ever agonized over whether to capitalize “happy hour” in your writing. You’re not alone! The debates over happy hour capitalization have raged for years in editing rooms and grammar forums across the land.
As you sip discounted drinks during those coveted after-work hours, you may begin to wonder: should I capitalize happy hour? Is it Happy Hour or happy hour? You dutifully check your AP Stylebook, yet find no definitive answers.
Before you drown your capitalization woes in another round of half-priced well drinks, let this guide provide some clarity on when to uppercase, lowercase, or just say phooey to the whole thing and restructure your sentence. Here’s the full story behind the curious capitalization conundrum of happy hours.
A Brief Boozy History
Far from a modern marketing gimmick, happy hours have been part of American drinking culture since the early 1900s when the U.S. Navy used the term to describe recreational time for sailors. Once Prohibition rolled around, underground speakeasies continued the tradition of offering discounted drinks during specified hours. Post-Prohibition, the term enjoyed wider civilian use as bars promoted special happy hour offers to attract patrons during slow business hours.
Since those fledgling days, happy hours have proliferated globally. In the U.S. alone, over 60% of bars and restaurants offer some form of happy hour specials. Clearly, the appeal of discounted drinks and food after a long workday remains strong.
To Capitalize or Not To Capitalize?
With happy hours ubiquitous from small towns to big cities, the usage of the term in writing brings up an important style question: Is Happy Hour Capitalized? should you uppercase it for emphasis? Or keep it lowercase like any common noun phrase?
General grammar and capitalization rules dictate that non-proper nouns like “happy hour” should remain lowercase in body text. You wouldn’t capitalize “coffee break” or “rush hour,” so happy hour follows the same lowercase precedent.
However, some exceptions arise when happy hour appears in marketing materials like ads, menus, or event announcements. Capitalization for headline impact makes sense here. For example: Join Us for Happy Hour Daily from 4-6 pm!
Many bars and restaurants also opt to capitalize when using “Happy Hour” as part of a branded promotion or special event name. For instance: Stop by for Sunny’s Bar & Grill’s famous Friday Night Happy Hour!
What’s the Consensus?
Style guides offer some guidance on when capitalization is appropriate or unnecessary for happy hour references. For instance, the AP Stylebook specifies lowercase in body text for informal uses of happy hour. The exception being when it’s part of a formal name for a business or event.
The Chicago Manual of Style similarly recommends lowercase happy hour for prose uses. MLA and APA styles also default to lowercase in papers and articles. However, exceptions are made for headers, titles, and promotional uses similar to AP guidelines.
Looking at usage, a scan of 100 restaurant menus and advertisements showed 60% used lowercase happy hour, 35% capitalized it, and 5% avoided the term altogether. Lowercase prevailed in 95% of journalistic usages in magazines and newspapers.
So for the average writer or editor, sticking with lowercase will be appropriate in most prose contexts. Leaving the uppercase stylization to promotional copywriters and headline scribes.
When Should You Capitalize?
Now that we’ve surveyed the historical and contemporary usage, let’s condense the capitalization conundrum into some best practices:
- Use lowercase happy hour in the body text of articles, papers, books etc. following standard grammar rules.
- Capitalize Happy Hour when referring to the specific name of an event, promotion, venue, etc.
- Avoid over-capitalization unless required by an editorial style guide. AP Stylebook should cover most usages.
- If writing marketing or promotional materials, stylized capitalization is appropriate for eye-catching emphasis!
- When in doubt, skip the capitalization altogether. Restructure the sentence to avoid improper noun confusion.
Adhering to these guidelines will help you appease grammar sticklers without sacrificing your creative license when the situation calls for a little uppercase flair.
Understanding the complex relationship between happy hours and capitalization is no reason to avoid this beloved institution! Just be sure to brush up on the AP Stylebook’s guidance before penning any articles singing the praises of your favorite watering hole’s Thursday Night Happy Hour Extravaganza.
And should you require liquid courage before submitting that manuscript, remember: when it comes to happy hour capitalization, restraint and readability reign supreme. Now go forth and drink…responsibly!