It might soon be legal for Virginia restaurants to advertise their happy hour specials.
The Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates passed bills on Wednesday that would expand restaurants’ ability to advertise happy hours and the price of featured alcoholic beverages.
Senate Bill 1726 proposed by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, passed on a 40-0 vote and House Bill 2073, sponsored by Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, passed 90-4 Wednesday. The legislation could soon be heading to the governor’s desk.
“This is all positive progress,” said Travis Hill, chief executive officer of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
As it stands now, under Virginia law, retail on-premises licensees (restaurants) can’t share specifics of their happy hour specials ($2 beers, $3 glasses of wine) outside of their restaurants, including on their websites, on social media and in any advertisements.
“I am literally afraid of running happy hours because I can’t get my message out that we even have one,” said Brittanny Anderson, co-owner of Brenner Pass and Metzger Bar & Butchery. “This would be great and make me more likely to run happy hour specials because I could actually tell people it exists! Imagine that!”
“I second 100 percent of this sentiment,” said Jay Bayer, co-owner of Saison, Saison Market and Bing Beer Co. restaurants.
Legislation that went into effect in 2014 loosened some of the earlier advertising restrictions, allowing restaurants to say they had happy hour specials, but it continued to impose restrictions on sharing specifics.
The bills that passed Wednesday were introduced on behalf of the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority Board, in part as a result of a lawsuit filed by a Virginia restaurateur last year.
Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff’s restaurant in Alexandria, filed suit against the Virginia ABC last year arguing that rules that bar him from advertising drink specials restrict his free-speech rights and hurt his business.
Hill said ABC is in the process of changing some regulations, which could allow language touting specials such as “Thirsty Thursday” or “Wine Wednesday,” but it would take legislation to allow the price of the beverages to be advertised.