Lawmakers might give happy hour advertising a shot

Posted on: 7:02 pm, February 13, 2012, by and , updated on: 01:38pm, February 14, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)  – Virginia restaurants haven’t been able to advertise happy hour specials outside of their establishment walls since the 1980s when a bill was passed by the General Assembly. In late 2009, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board amended the bill and approved the posting of a 17″ by 22″ sign in the window of a restaurant.

Now some lawmakers said a new spirit could take over the state. As it stands now,  Virginia restaurants dare not speak easy about happy hour pricing on their social media sites, but it appears the new law will allow restaurants to give social media and online promotion a shot.

“This is just a simple measure so restaurants can move into the 21st century on a level playing field so we’re not losing business in Virginia compared to our neighboring states” said Delegate David Englin (D-45).

House Bill 470, which passed the House, would allow restaurants to post happy hour events online, with some limitations. Delegate David Albo, who introduced the legislation, said they specifically made sure that restaurants wouldn’t be able to send out email blasts.

“This only allows them to put the info on their website, and a website also includes social media,“said Albo.

Currenlty, use of social media falls under ABC regulation as electronic media.

Electronic media is defined by the ABC as, “any system involving the transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, television, electromagnetic, photo-electronic, or photo-optical system, including, but not limited to, radio, television, electronic mail, and the Internet.”

As the law stands currently, a patron can directly call a restaurant to inquire about happy hour prices, and it is legal to relay that information over the phone. But, a restaurant cannot post the information on their own website that they pay to maintain and which a customer directly seeks out when they dial-up the url.

Some substance abuse coalitions, like S.A.F.E. or Substance Abuse Free Environment, have huge concerns about using electronic media to promote drink specials.

Executive Director Wayne Frith said that drunk driving is a concern because “When you think about happy hour, people get drunk in a short period of time.”

“We know that DUI’s go up and sexual assaults,” he said.

Daniel Fabian, who is the Coordinator of Alcohol and Substance Abuse at the University of Richmond, said this proposed bill will reel in the younger crowd that relies heavily on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

He said they aim to prevent underage drinking and address the issue of alcohol abuse.
“We don’t want anyone to die or be harmed because of the use of alcohol,” said Fabian.

In response to the criticism, Delegate Albo said “How would a young person [underage] be able to come to a restaurant after seeing happy hour specials on a social media site?”

Already it is a well-known fact that venues have happy hours, but that itself isn’t seen as an enticement for underage drinking. It’s the promotion that is feared.

“The problem is people perceive the bill does more than it does,” said Albo. “They read happy hour, advertising and social media and they don’t read the bill.”

Some college students said they hope people will keep an open mind about the bill.

“I also think people have a right to advertise what they’re selling” said Reece Chalkley.

“Honestly, if someone wants a drink, they’ll go get one,” said Daniel Wright. “Companies should be able to advertise and I think it’s fair to advertise better prices…so consumers can get what they deserve.”

The measure now heads to the Senate. Frith said his organization plans to fight this every step of the way and said they’ll encourage parents to join them in speaking out about House Bill 470.

Read the full bill here: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?121+cab+HC10112HB0470+BREF

The bill went to the Senate today, who referred it to the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.