‘Happy Hour’ laws could soon loosen up in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. -- Happy hour may get a bit happier for some Virginians working behind the bar.

Two companion bills passed by Virginia's House and Senate Wednesday could potentially loosen the laws surrounding happy hour advertising at restaurants and bars across the Commonwealth.

Defined as "a specified period of time during which alcoholic beverages are sold at prices reduced from the customary price established by a retail licensee," "Happy Hour" in Virgina is carefully regulated by the state's Alcoholic and Beverage Control Authority (ABC).

If signed into law,  HB2072 in the House and SB1726 in the Senate would enable restaurants and bars to begin advertising happy hours by advertising the prices featured alcoholic beverages- a practice currently banned across the state.

According to current ABC law, restaurants in Virginia must follow very specific rules about "happy hour".  For example, a happy hour can't be between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., buy-one-get-one deals are completely off the table, and allowing a person to have more than two drinks in their possession (excluding properly measured beer and wine flights) is not allowed.

But where the rules get more complicated - and restrictive -  is in regards to when, where, and how restaurants can advertise their drink specials.

  • Currently, ABC law bans establishments from advertising drink prices externally - meaning prices cannot be posted anywhere outside of the restaurant or told to customers over the phone
  • In January 2014, ABC regulations changed to allow restaurants to advertise their happy hours or drink specials online. Prior to 2014, restaurants could only advertise happy hour times inside the establishment.
  • In March 2010, regulation changes allowed the business to also post happy hour times on a 17-by-22- inch sign attached to the outside of the building.

If a restaurant is found to be in violation of ABC law, they can incur heavy fines or have their liquor license revoked altogether.

The bills passed the 90-4 and 40-0 in the House and Senate, respectively.

With both bills passing through their home chambers on Wednesday, they will now move forward for consideration to the opposite chamber before potentially being signed into law by Gov. Northam.

 

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