Happy app puts Hong Kong's bars on map

27 September 2022

Guest Shift
Mark Sinclair launched the Happy Hour Hong Kong app for friends to discover drink deals at local venues. He quickly found a market among venue managers seeking novel ways to attract new customers, track marketing, and put their establishments – quite literally – on the map.

Hi Mark. How did you come up with the idea for Happy Hour?
"A few years ago, I was in Iceland visiting some local bars and a couple of beers was about £20. I spoke to my father-in-law at the time, who loves researching, and he found me an app called Happy Hour. It was very basic: it just had a list of bars local to Reykjavik and told you when they had a happy hour."

And the idea stuck?
"Yeah – I never really needed to think about it but when I arrived in Hong Kong, I realised lots of bars and restaurants had a happy hour. I was travelling from one of the islands into the city and I saw a gentleman Googling where to find a happy hour, then cutting and pasting the bar into Google Maps to find when it was, then cutting and pasting links into WhatsApp to send to a friend. And the idea came back to me – with the idea to have it all in one app, so you have the geolocation there and you can share features…"

How does it work for bars?
"We put the bars on there for free but it's just limited details – the time of their happy hour and location. For a monthly fee the venue manager gets autonomy over their own page and they can edit it so they can put up more pictures, and list what the happy hour deals are. They can put events on there, or if they show sports or live music, they can put that in their descriptions. Those bars will also appear as gold stars on the map."

Do you use Happy Hour?
"My wife and I were having a little staycation at a hotel and thought we’d go for a quick drink. We used the app to find happy hours nearby and found a tiki bar called Wahtiki Island Lounge hidden in a tower block. It was a rum bar with beautiful cocktails, a real hidden gem – and the app helped us find it. We want to help these venues hidden up in tower blocks or down in basements get exposure."

Hong Kong has a lot of those kind of bars, doesn’t it?
"To have a venue on street level in Hong Kong you're talking hundreds of thousands per month to rent – up to millions. It's really expensive, so many bars go up or down. Everyone knows the street bars, but it’s harder for the others." 

How do they attract people?
"We surveyed some bars about their advertising and found 90% of the advertising was only through social media. A lot just relied on word of mouth, but things are tough in Hong Kong at the moment and these bars are really struggling. Even some of the bars on street level that have been around for years have closed down."

So, what’s the future for Happy Hour?
"We’d like to have 200 to 300 businesses registered to paid membership, and we want to have 10,0000 consumer users. If we could see this kind of data on how many people are using the app, we could tell international businesses who wanted to branch out in Hong Kong where the most popular areas are, for example."

What makes a good bar, for you?
"I like character and atmosphere. I don't mind paying a lot for a drink if the venue warrants it. I like a good old Irish pub and I love a rooftop bar. There are so many in Hong Kong – it’s the best skyline in the world."

And what are you having?
"I’m a lager guy. I don’t mind a Stout and Black – stout with a dash of blackcurrant cordial. For a cocktail, it’s got to be a mojito, but I’m quite keen on the variations – a raspberry or strawberry mojito. I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth."

Happy Hours
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