The concept of after work drinks or happy hour (borreltijd in Dutch) is not unique to the Netherlands, but the country certainly knows how to go about it. Whilst happy hours elsewhere are often used to promote drink specials and boost sales, the tradition of borrelen in the Netherlands is more of a socio-cultural event. In a country with hardly any public holidays during the year, a typical 40 hour work week and where overtime is extremely common, the work hard, play hard culture is summed up by borrelen.
1. What is borrelen?
The Dutch word borrel can refer to a small glass of a spirit, traditionally a Dutch gin-like spirit called Genever, however more broadly the word describes a social gathering centred around drinks and snacks (primarily finger foods, known as borrelhapjes) in a non-restaurant setting. Whilst a borrel can occur anywhere and at any time, the word borrelen refers specifically to post-work, pre-dinner drinks and is a time dedicated to relaxing and socialising. It’s a gathering of professionals collectively winding down on a Friday evening after a long and tiring workweek with a drink and snack. Groups of friends or colleagues crowd around bars or at tables pushed close together, celebrating the inclusive and intergenerational tradition of the borrelen.
2. Several ways to celebrate
In certain Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the word vrijdagmiddagborrel or vrijmibo for short is also used to describe post-work drinks. Translated it means “Friday afternoon drinking” and Dutch professionals started the tradition as a way of socialising with colleagues at the end of the week. These gatherings often take place in-office and the phenomenon has also been co-opted by non-professionals who borrel on Friday afternoons.
Many Dutch people join in for a weekly borrelen, but they all have their own way of partaking in the tradition. For the younger ones, teenagers and young adults enjoying borrelen, their late-afternoon beers may well be the pre-game to a heavy night of drinking, whilst an older crowd usually opts to take a break for dinner around 7 or 8pm. Of course after this they might head back out for evening drinks, but this would no longer qualify as borrelen. Everyone’s borrelen is personal, depending on the individual, the day they’ve had, on their mood. But that’s the beauty of it, you can borrelen, all together, however you like!