BYoB or Bar, Senior Living Makes Way for Happy Hour

Happy hours exist in all sorts of establishments across the country, from the most common—bars and restaurants— to retirement communities, where residents, as executive directors emphasize, are still very much of the happy-hour going type.

Many retirement communities put their own twist on happy hour, whether it’s bring-your-own-beverage style or featuring the community’s own fully-stocked bar, complete with a liquor license. And state regulations often set the bar for what a community can—and can’t—offer when it comes to consumption of alcoholic beverages. 

“Having a happy hour is a positive impact; people enjoy the camaraderie and the connection; it creates a liveliness and energy,” says Sean Nealon, executive director of Florida CCRC The Waterford. 


It’s likely that liquor licenses are commonly found in communities where core values don’t conflict with alcohol consumption and state laws allow for it, says Nealon based on his experience in the industry. 

“Anywhere I’ve ever been where it’s allowed, has had them,” he says. 

Santa Marta CCRC—BYOB-Style


Santa Marta, a six-year-old CCRC sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, throws a happy hour each day after Mass. Around 68% of residents are Roman Catholic, says executive director Chet Surmaczewicz, and once Mass ends around 4:30, a “high percentage” of the community’s residents gather in the lounge for socializing and drinks. 

“Our residents are extremely social. It’s not so much about complimentary beverages and food; it’s just such a social hub.” Surmaczewicz has experience in the hospitality industry as well as a culinary background, and says dining is sometimes the only social interaction a resident might have.

The community has 90 liquor lockers rather than a liquor license and a full bar, something Santa Marta has decided not to pursue, he says. The CCRC also has BYOB-style dining and a complimentary, on-the-house happy hour on Fridays. 

“Because of the way we’re laid out, it’d be difficult to manage [a bar], logistically, for the set-up and breakdown because we’re not really set up to have a back bar where there’s storage,” he says.

Other challenges include having appropriate space to display and dispense drinks and having individuals working at the community old enough to serve and manage alcohol sales.

“We’ve found a model that works with liquor cabinets,” he says. All those lockers are currently full in a community of more than 200 residents, and Surmaczewicz notes that many of the lockers are being used by married couples.  

The Waterford CCRC—Full Bar & Liquor License

The Waterford, a CCRC in Juno Beach, Fla., has a full bar that’s open all week and offers various food and drink specials. While the community has always facilitated some version of a happy hour in its multi-purpose rooms and had a liquor license, the current iteration was created around three years ago by executive director Sean Nealon.

“Sometimes you need some sort of sticks-and-bricks to help direct people to,” says Nealon. “It helps create the lifestyle we’re looking to grow and foster here, and it’s packed every night.” 

The community used to have 24 liquor lockers available to residents, but because they rarely turned over, residents without a locker voiced some complaints. The Waterford ended up removing the lockers and is now in the process of installing two wine cellars with capacity for around 600 bottles.

The move has allowed the community to greatly expand its menu offerings, Nealon says, with different options for both price point and type of wine. 

“We look for touch points where we can help create a positive environment for the people who live here and help them have great social interaction,” says Nealon. “Our bar is just one of many different components. Happy Hour here is a fun time, like it would be anywhere.” 

The goal at The Waterford is for proceeds from liquor sales to cover the cost of the bar. There is a mark-up, but not nearly as steep as what’s found in typical bars, says Nealon. 

Because the Waterford is a cashless campus, residents put drinks on their tab, which is then charged to their monthly bill, or use a credit card. The bar uses a point-of-sale system so that residents can sign for each order.

While happy hours typically are fun social events, there are “gray areas” associated with serving liquor, says Nealon. 

“Our biggest challenge is working with residents who have had too much to drink,” he says. “That becomes the most delicate situation we have–working with individuals on when is enough. Ultimately, people need to be safe. We don’t want anybody getting hurt.” 

Hillcrest Health Services’ Grand Lodge—The Pub

Hillcrest Health Services is in the process of constructing an independent living building at Hillcrest Country Estates campus in Nebraska, slated to open this December. The Grand Lodge will include a restaurant, bistro, and pub, with plans to obtain a liquor license for the entire community so residents can purchase alcohol in any of those venues. 

The pub is expected to stay open 6-7 days a week and host happy hours almost every evening. While it will have set hours of operation, if the bar is full at closing time, it will remain open, according to Jim Janicki, vice president of marketing and communications at Hillcrest. 

“It’s all about the social aspect—it’s not about the alcohol,” he says. “Our entire approach to the Grand Lodge is to provide the cruise ship lifestyle so people feel like they’re on vacation every day of their retirement. We’re catering to a younger boomer population.”

Janicki estimates that alcohol is either served or allowed at around 80% of senior living communities, and Hillcrest already serves beer and wine in its existing assisted living residence under a lower-level liquor license. 

“Because we’re going to be operating a fully functional bar that’s not open to the public, we’re treating this very differently,” Janicki says. “We have to know what the mark-ups should be, how to serve people—and not over-serve—and how to balance the service with all the other culinary services.” 

Figuring out how to price drinks is a balance. Profit margins for liquor in a regular bar is typically around 80 cents, says Jose Machuca, future Grand Lodge administrator. But residents of a retirement community are going to expect more value, and Machuca’s job will be to balance pricing with the cost of labor and supplies for the bar. 

The community plans to include a certain number of “flex” points into monthly rent for residents to use on things massages, the salon, fitness trainers, or adding alcoholic drinks to meals. Residents have the option of buying more flex points, or using cash. 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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