Dear PoPville – Should Restaurants Honor Happy Hour Pricing for Take Out Orders?

by Prince Of Petworth January 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm 84 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Raymond Bryson

“Dear PoPville,

I ordered two margherita pizzas for pick up at Red Rocks on my way home. On the website, there is a ‘happy hour’ menu designated for Tue-Fri from 4-7pm (and these pizzas are $7 on that menu). When I picked up the pizzas, the total cost was $26. I expressed my surprise and the host said, “happy hour prices don’t apply to take-out.” I checked the online menu while I was waiting and there was nothing online about happy hour being dine-in only. I also checked the printed menu while I was waiting and there was nothing written on the printed menu about this. I brought it up one more time and another individual (not sure if he was the manager or a bartender) said, “that’s a known fact that happy hour prices are for dine-in only. Did you even ask for the happy hour prices on the phone?” At which point, I dropped it since it was clear that they thought I was being unreasonable.

So my question for others: was I being unreasonable? I ordered two pizzas based on the fact that I thought they would be a great deal. If there is a happy hour special, I don’t understand the logic of why it applies to dine-in only — I thought I was providing good business to a local establishment on a night when they surely won’t get too much business anyway. But I am really curious what others think.”

Ed. Note: I’m afraid I have to agree with the restaurant. I’ve always assumed happy hour prices to be dine in.

  • J

    I thought HH deals were widely known to not only be dine in only, but usually only valid in the bar area.

    • Yeah, many of the menus say specifically “valid at the bar only”. You would have to consult the specific menu here in detail, but if there is no stated restriction then you could have an argument. Although I find Red Rocks pizza to be terrible, so paying full price for it would certainly put a bad taste in my mouth both figuratively and literally.

      • JD

        Yep, Red Rocks Columbia Heights has that great outside patio, but they only offer happy hour prices inside. If you want to sit outside at Red Rocks during happy hour, you pay full price. On a beautiful spring day, I suppose this makes sense for business when people want to sit outside regardless. But, I know that they have lost my business on a few occassions, because I wanted to dine al fresco, but couldn’t justify doing it there when I knew I’d be “paying extra”.

  • Matt

    Isn’t the point of happy hour to lure you in with loss-leading food and then make money off of your buying drinks, which (even when discounted) have a high profit margin? Maybe you should offer to buy a couple of beers while they’re boxing you up next time ;-)

  • Anon

    They’re dine in only because they expect to make their money back on drinks.

  • John

    I’d have assumed dine-in, but this seems like a “the customer is always right” case. Give you that price and clarify their advertising. I see your argument that this is kind of like a “lunch special” … the price incentive is to move food in a slack time. But I’ve seen the “dine in only” thing so many times that I’ve come to expect it.

    • Yeah, the manager’s attitude definitely sounds like it leaves something to be desired.

      • Anonymous

        I suppose that if you’re used to believing you’re always right, it would seem that way.

      • annonny

        I gotta say I’m put off by the “it’s commonly known that hh prices are dine-in only…” comments from the manager. Insulting your customers is not a way to encourage repeat business. He coulda offered a one-time hh pricing to the customer (assuming there’s no disclaimer on the menus or on-line), or he coulda been polite and explained something like “we discount for eat-in because people buy wine and beer; we can’t discount for take-out because we would lose money on every pizza we sell.” Making the customer feel like an ignoramus is not only bad service, it’s rude.

    • MHDC

      Common sense > The customer is always right.

      • Anonymous

        How is “the customer is always right” common sense?! This customer was NOT right in assuming something incorrectly. Common sense would be to assume that HH does not include carry-out.

  • Anonymous

    Always assumed it to be dine-in ONLY. Take-out happy hour deals sort of defeat the purpose of having a happy hour deal in the first place…

    • L

      Ditto. Happy hour prices on food are to lure you in to buy the drinks, which are typically also discounted. I’ve never heard of anywhere offering happy hour prices on takeout, and typically you have to be sitting in the bar area to get the discounts.

  • AG

    It would be nice for them to post it, but generally, HH prices are for dine-in only and even then, often just available at the bar. The point, as has been stated before, is so you spend money on drinks. Why would they benefit from you coming in during a busy time to grab some super cheap pizza and walk out the door? At the very least, you should have asked over the phone.

  • Anon

    Did you also assume that the happy hour deals on alcohol were for takeout as well?

  • Anon X

    Right. Its widely known that food and drink is substantially lower in price to drive demand and volume. In fact, food is usually a loss leader to drive purchases of drinks, that while reduced, still have some margin.

    If you wanted a 6 dollar that you could drink your own beer in front of your own tv, perhaps you should have made your own pizza?

    I get annoyed by restaurants that expect a tip for take out, but I also get annoyed by people who think they should get the meal special on take out (especially when its a hell of a deal).

  • Happy hour is always dine-in only. Only someone with no experience going to a restaurant/bar, an idiot, and/or a cheapskate with think otherwise.

    • It’s not an absolute always. When I used to live behind Black Jack they would let you order the $6.50 pizza HH deal and take it with you (not sure if it applied to the others or not, but I definitely took advantage of that one).

      • Could you clarify? Did you call it in and pick it up already boxed up? Or did you order it while you were there and then ask for a box once they served it?

        • I called it in and walked over to pick it up. It was during their Sunday (all day) HH, I dunno if that made a difference or not, but they definitely never charged me full price.

  • MHDC

    There have been some ridiculous “Dear Popville’s” before, and this is right up there with the best of them. This person could not honestly have thought that Happy Hour applied to take out. I mean, you must have never, ever, eaten at a restaurant in your life to think this.

    • Anonymous

      Some of us are never available to take advantage of happy hour specials so we honestly have no idea. If I had to guess I would have said those specials apply to dine-in only, but I hardly ever have the opportunity to get happy hour specials so I don’t really know how they work.

    • Meg

      No. The guy that wanted to play backgammon in bars without drinking was the best one.

      • Anonymous

        An all time classic.

      • Rhody


    • Anonymous

      A business can do whatever they want within the law. There is no regulation on happy hour offers… The goal from the company’s perspective is to maximize profit by luring customers in for food and then making more money on drinks. The customer’s power is asking before they buy, and then in not supporting the business if their pricing or service is not satisfactory,

  • dcreal

    To answer your question- Yes you were being unreasonable. I think it’s fair to say everyone knows that happyhour specials applies while your’re there at the bar area or even in the dining area, and not take out.(that is the draw of all happy hours.)
    If they were advertising 1/2 price pizzas on Tuesdays then maybe I can see where one should assume and should expect that is valid on “ALL” orders, wheter takeout/dine-in.

    • Anonymous

      Funny you mention half-priced pizza Tuesdays. I know for a fact that Radius in Mount Pleasant advertises $8 pasta Tuesdays, but only offers that deal dine-in, even though I don’t believe it isn’t explicitly stated on their website. I thought that this deal should apply to takeout myself, but understand why they wouldn’t honor that.

  • ET

    I always assumed that happy hour was an on-site thing. I will say that they may need to be explicit on their web page so that there is no future confusion.

  • Truxton Thomas

    Ditto on what everyone has said—happy hour specials are dine-in, often reserved for the bar area, and designed to entice customers to stick around and spend their money on higher-margin items.

    “Are you running a business or a charity ward?” – Mr. Potter

  • Anonymous

    Does the letter writer also like to play boardgames in bars, and think it’s unreasonable that he should be expected to buy a drink while he’s there?

    • A


  • textdoc

    I think people are being overly harsh on the OP here. I think he/she was naive, but this is nowhere up there with the legendary post from the guy who thought he and his friend should be able to get a booth and play backgammon at the Raven without purchasing anything.
    I had never really thought about whether happy hour deals would be eligible for takeout. If someone had asked me, I would’ve thought about it and said, “Hmm… probably not,” but I don’t think the OP deserves to be excoriated for his/her naivete.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. The restaurant should have put the disclaimer on its website and/or menu. The OP should have also inquired about HH prices when making his order.

      • Just pulled up the website. The only location that lists a Happy Hour specific menu is Columbia Heights, and it clearly states “pricing valid with a $3 or more beverage purchase”. No way to tell now whether that was on there when s/he ordered, but if they did add it after the fact they should also update it according to this policy.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not the naivete that’s getting him/her flack– these kinds of errors happen to all of us, and we learn and move on. It’s the attitude. “I didn’t get what I wanted so of course I was wronged and everyone must hear about it.”
      (A “really curious what others think” letter wouldn’t have named the restaurant. This is a shaming attempt.)

      • textdoc

        The OP sounded genuinely confused/curious to me, not attitudinal or sounding entitled.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. It may be hard to believe, but some of us rarely go out for happy hour food/drinks and don’t know what the rules are.

      • But most people have bought at least a frozen grocery store pizza or the cheapest Dominos take-out pizza somewhere on planet earth and know that it is never just $7.00.

        • anon

          I don’t know how much frozen pizzas from the grocery store cost, but you can get a large pizza (cooked) at 7-Eleven for $5.55 plus tax.

        • Anonymous

          I actually don’t have a great idea what pizzas cost because I hardly ever get them. But even if the pizza is worth more than $7, I would think it’s more like a sale at a store where some things are offered at little or no profit in the hopes that people will buy regular price items (but don’t have to).

          • Anonymous

            (also, I make pizzas at home every now and ten, and the ingredients cost practically nothing)

    • Anonymous

      I agree. I go to plenty of restaurants, but I don’t drink, and don’t go to happy hours. If I saw a price listed on a menu, I would assume that that was indeed the price. I think it should be on the restaurant to write a disclaimer — not on the customer to ask. If it’s not a frequent issue, the restaurant should just honor the price that was posted. If it’s a problem, the restaurant should just note that the HHS pricing is for eat-in only, if they offer take- out. It shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility to clarify the prices or the policies.

  • Kye

    More important is that business, by law, have to honor posted prices and terms, which is why *smart* business put “dine-in only” and “bar area only” on happy hour advertising. If they don’t, then they have to give the price to whatever kind of customer you happen to be at that moment, dine in or take out.

    Not every restaurant follows the dine-in only standard despite what some of you want us all to believe, and you can’t just assume people will know what your particular policies are.

    • ah

      +1 to this. “Happy hour” isn’t exactly a defined term, and means different things in different states, cities, restaurants and bars. And businesses have them for different reasons – sometimes it’s to sell drinks, sometimes to move food at low demand hours and avoid calling it “early bird” or “old folks” pricing.

      Sure, I’ve seen plenty of menus that specify “dine in only” and such. So the absence of that restriction would suggest to me that there is no restriction.

    • Anonymous

      oh wow, “by law”, scary scary

      • Anon

        Gotta love when people throw around terms like “by law” and are incorrect. Obvious mistakes, for example, often don’t have to be honored. A car dealership usually doesn’t have to sell you a car for $1,000 when the price is really $10,000 and someone mistyped the ad copy. And I’m not saying that Red Rocks is covered under this exception, only that the blanket statement above just isn’t necessarily true.

  • Anon

    To me, this would be like to getting pissed when a restaurant won’t box up leftovers from a buffet. Maybe they should clarify in their advertising, but everyone knows you can’t take home buffet leftovers, and everyone knows (or should know) that happy hour is for on-premises orders only. There may be generous restaurants like Black Jack cited above, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

    • Jen Jen

      “To me, this would be like to getting pissed when a restaurant won’t box up leftovers from a buffet.”

      But, they do!

      ::Flashback to my teenage years working at CiCi’s Pizza::

  • Anonymous

    I could see how you could be upset at this, so I wouldn’t say “unreasonable”, but definitely an amateur-hour type of move.

  • Nc3

    There is no rule that says happy hour prices only apply in the restaurant. It is up to the specific business to designate when the deal applies and if they were advertising $7 pizzas on the menu without a notation that it was available for happy hour and then not

    What all of you are expressing is a social expectation based on other restaurants’ practices. But if it is not in writing then a restaurant should honor their advertising or they are breaking the law.

    I checked the site and it does not indicate that happy hour is only offered for dine-in. Compare it to The Heights menu (https://www.dropbox.com/s/jpj3uexrdg9dh8j/Happy%20Hour.pdf) which clearly indicates the times and locations the deals are available.

    D.C. Code § 28-3904

    Ҥ 28-3904. Unlawful trade practices
    It shall be a violation of this chapter, whether or not any consumer is in fact misled, deceived or damaged thereby, for any person to:

    (h) advertise or offer goods or services without the intent to sell them or without the intent to sell them as advertised or offered; – See more at: http://businesslaw.uslegal.com/deceptive-trade-practices-laws/district-of-columbia-deceptive-trade-practices-laws/#sthash.PWxZWRSv.dpuf

    • Anon

      Well, sure. But breaking the law, by itself, doesn’t mean anything unless there are consequences. And the word “intent” is used twice so that should give you a clue that an honest mistake doesn’t rise to the level of the bait-and-switch that this clause is meant to outlaw. Looked at another way, try filing this complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the DC Attorney General Office see how quickly they hang up on you.

  • erm…

    Totally agree with “no duh, dine-in only” but what about this?

    @dangerouspiesDC: Hey pie friends! Join us tonight from 5 – 7 pm for a Pie happy hour, ALL DC locations! ALL sweet SLICES are 50% off! https://twitter.com/dangerouspiesDC/status/426428688272351232

    Take out, too, yea?

  • hma

    I didn’t know and I’ve never even thought about it, mostly because I never go to happy hour.

    BUT, if I were in that situation and the manager told me that it only applied to dine-in, I’d say “ok thanks :-)” and be on my way.

    • Patrick

      This would have been a pretty good option, in my opinion.

  • anon

    Definitely unreasonable, though this reminds me of my friend in NOLA’s stories of $7 take-out Indian buffet with no limit to the number of boxes you used.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I once was surprised when I was charged the HH price on a Pizza at Pi in Adams Morgan. But then I realized it was because the order was not ready in time and I had a beer while I waited. The point of HH is that you are in there buying drinks.

  • Linds

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been doing RR happy hours for years and they always write that it’s for dine-in only on their specials board. So it is written somewhere, if not on the menu/website.

  • lovefifteen

    How could you possibly think that you were “providing good business to a local establishment” by purchasing a pizza discounted to $7? Surely you must be able to deduce that the restaurant is losing money at that price when you consider the cost of the ingredients, the labor, and the building. Happy Hours are designed to get people into a restaurant when it otherwise wouldn’t be that full. Even if you don’t order alcohol, you’re at least providing them with a person in the restaurant that can liven up the place.

    • Red Rocks competes with Matchbox in my book for fewest toppings actually on top of your pizza. I would bet that even at $7 they’re still making money, or at the very least breaking even.

      • Beau

        Basil? You wanted basil? Here are four leaves spread across eight pieces.


  • anon

    While I agree with the many other posters about the reasonable logic for the restaurant to set these terms, I would fault them for not making this conditional pricing explicit. I do agree that it wouldn’t have hurt to ask over the phone if it was a big deal to you.

  • Jen

    Can someone link the Dear Popville about the guy playing backgammon at the bar? It sounds hilarious but I can’t find it anywhere!

  • Mr. Greenline

    I’ve worked in the restaurant business for almost 20 years and I have never come across a restaurant that offers “Happy Hour” prices for to go orders. I would go as far as saying that I doubt “Early Bird” and “Daily Specials” would apply to to go orders. As others mentioned, many times, “Happy Hour” specials sometimes only apply to the bar area and do not extend to main dining area.

  • Anonymous

    Can someone explain to me why they have HH specials at the bar only section of some restaurants

  • anon

    I have a very tangential question: Don’t the prices listed on drinks menus usually already include tax?
    I went to Den of Thieves on its opening night, and was confused because the drinks menu clearly showed all cocktails as $8, but each time I ordered one, the bartender said it was $9. Even if the tax wasn’t included, wouldn’t it be $8.80?

    • The answer to your first question, based on my experience in DC, would be no. Perhaps other cities do it differently.

    • There’s been a trend for mid-high end (re not McFaddens, SOTW etc.) spots in DC to charge pre-tax for all drinks.

  • Anon

    If you want $7 carry out pizza go to Dominos

  • Brian

    I definately agree with the restaurant.. happy hour is meant to bring people in and order more items.. not for carry out. What would be the point of that?

  • djs

    So an elderly miser is lying on his deathbed. He calls out to his wife, “Sweetheart, where are you?” She says, “I’m right here next to you.” The miser says, “What about the children, are they all here too?” The children say, “Yes, father.” The miser says, “Then why is the fan still running in the other room?”

    • Anonymous


  • Patrick

    A few months back, I sat at the bar at Posto, ordered a glass of wine, then asked if I could take a HH-priced pizza to go. They said no, I have to sit there and eat it. I thought it was moronic, and considered being a pain in the ass by eating 1/2 of one slice then asking for a box (what are they gonna say? no?), but I just sat there and ate it. So, I guess they won the battle but the experience (figuratively, their pizza is good) left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • JoeEsq74

    Happy Hour is such a generic term now that Starbucks uses HH for discount Frappuccinos. I go to Clyde’s happy hour regularly and all menus are clearly posted HH deals only good at the bar. A lot of pizza places offer take out only deals, they sell you a pizza they make a couple of bucks and you don’t take up space in the restaurant

  • Anonymous

    As a server in this town I’d also like to point out that when HH is offered only in the bar area of a restaurant it is also not ok to get up from your table in the main restaurant to order your drinks at the bar and bring them back to your table. Extremely tacky.

  • Ali

    OP here — Thanks for everyone’s thoughts on the matter (especially to those who gave their opinion without added vitriol.) I’m obviously a bit out of touch — though yes, I have been to a restaurant and even worked in one before. Apparently my toddler (who has limited my happy hour attendance as of late) and the cold weather affected my judgement and sensibility in the situation. Lesson learned!


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