Happy Hour Bill Dies, Fight Won’t

Picture a Virginia in which your favorite restaurant can advertise its reduced-price, happy-hour drink specials on its own website.

But that only happens if and when state officials approve legislation to allow restaurant owners to do so. For now, state law prohibits advertising reduced-price drink specials in print publications, broadcast media or on the Internet.

Being able to communicate those specials electronically is one strategy Virginia restaurant owners should be able to utilize, says Katie Hellebush, director of government relations for the Virginia Travel and Hospitality Association. The law preventing them from doing so was “written and last updated well before electronic communications and social media became part of daily business,” writes Hellebush in an emailed statement.

The law may also put some Virginia restaurant owners at a competitive disadvantage. “It may not matter for some, but for those business owners in Northern Virginia who have to compete directly with restaurants in the D.C. area, it makes a difference,” says John Golden, chief of staff to Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria.

The Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia opposes the legislation, saying that promoting discount drinks often results in binge drinking and other irresponsible behavior and leads to problems with health and public safety.

State law allows restaurants to send notice of drink specials via traditional mail, or they can post drink specials on one sign — usually a sandwich board — attached to the exterior of their businesses. But technology is blurring the lines. Style Weekly, for example, offers a Happy Hours smart-phone application that advertises drink and food specials at local restaurants. Because the newspaper posts the information and not the restaurant, it’s considered legal.

Englin’s bill would have retained the prohibitions against advertising drink specials in print ads, but allowed restaurants to post their specials on their websites and social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.

But the law won’t be changed this year. Legislation proffered by Englin that would have amended state code died in committee last week. The sticking point, says Hellebush, was defining in law what constitutes social media. Hellebush says that with some study the legislation should be ready for consideration by next year.


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