Effective July 1, restaurants in Virginia will be able to advertise their happy hour specials legally.
That means restaurants that offer $5 margaritas from 4 to 7 p.m., or $2 beers from noon to 8 p.m. every day, or $3 wine on Wednesdays can actually tell people about it — on their websites, on social media, in a sign in the window or in a paid advertisement.
“We’re going to take big advantage,” said Chris Staples, director of hospitality and marketing for EAT Restaurant Partners.
The EAT group owns 11 Richmond-area restaurants, including Fat Dragon and Pizza and Beer of Richmond, and Staples said the group has always had stellar drink specials during happy hour, but it couldn’t tell anyone about them.
“Now we’re going to stand on the rooftops telling people how great it is — seven days a week in all of our locations,” he said. “And who doesn’t want to know about great drink specials?”
The new rules are thanks to the happy hour legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly this year. The Senate and the House of Delegates passed proposals to expand restaurants’ ability to advertise happy hours and the price of featured alcoholic beverages.
“This change will allow mixed-beverage licensees to be more creative and transparent in their happy hour advertising, while still recognizing limitations which encourage responsible service and consumption,” said Travis Hill, CEO of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
Until now, under Virginia law, restaurants couldn’t share specifics of their happy hour specials ($2 beers and $3 glasses of wine, for example) outside of their restaurants, including on their websites, on social media and in any advertisements.
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 this year were introduced on behalf of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, in part as a result of a lawsuit filed by a Virginia restaurateur last year.
Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff’s in Northern Virginia, 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.
The bills passed overwhelmingly — 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.
“Virginia ABC strives to balance the interests of our licensees to advertise and sell alcoholic beverages while maintaining our commitment to public safety. We were pleased to advocate in favor of the legislation and are appreciative of its passage,” Hill said.
The amendment to Section 4.1-111 of the Code of Virginia now reads as follows:
“The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority shall promulgate regulations that: Prescribe the terms for any ‘happy hour’ conducted by on-premises licensees. Such regulations shall permit on-premises licensees to advertise any alcoholic beverage products featured during a happy hour and any pricing related to such happy hour. Such regulations shall not prohibit on-premises licensees from using creative marketing techniques in such advertisements, provided that such techniques do not tend to induce overconsumption or consumption by minors.”