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Virginia Eases Happy Hour Promotion Restrictions


DonRocks
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Here is an important article from Virginia ABC:

"Happy Hour Promotion Restrictions Eased"

These regulations are still complex and very limiting, but kudos to Virginia ABC for putting them on the web, and giving specific examples:

These Statements Are All Acceptable

Happy hour from 4-7 p.m. daily

Join us for happy hour drink specials

We offer drink specials from 4-8 p.m. Monday-Friday

Offering the best happy hour in Arlington

Unacceptable Statements

Enjoy discounted drinks from 4-7 p.m. - The word "discounted" may not be used.

                                                                The only approved phrases are "Happy Hour" and "Drink Specials"

Enjoy happy hour margaritas from 4-7 p.m. - The drink type (margaritas) may not be listed

Beer and wine specials from 5-9 p.m. daily - The drink type (beer and wine) may not be listed

$2 off drinks - Specific discount amounts may not be promoted

$2 off highballs - There are two violations in this statement (if you can't pick them out, go back to the top and read again)

Thirsty Thursday: Beer Specials From 4-8 p.m. - The drink type (beer) may not be listed

                                                                             Also, "Thirsty Thursday" or any other such phrase cannot use a time-frame

                                                                             [Editor's note: It's okay to list the hours, but not the days? Both are time-frames.]

                                                                             [Editor's note: I finally figured out what this means - this is going to confuse people.]

2-for-1 rail drinks during happy hour - 2-for-1 drink specials are illegal at anytime and anyplace

Happy Hour 6-10 PM daily - All happy hours and discounted drink offerings must end by 9 PM

New Year's Eve package: One night at a hotel, dinner and brunch for two, and unlimited champagne for $175 - Offering unlimited amounts of alcohol is not allowed

This Statement Is (Somehow) Acceptable

Valentine's Day package: shared appetizer, pasta entrée, and dessert plus a bottle of Virginia-made wine for $50 per couple

Food and alcoholic drink package pairings may be promoted if an exact amount of alcohol is specified

[Editor's note: but they're listing the drink type. This is inconsistent - I guess the hitch is that it's a food-wine pairing?]

This Statement Is Also Acceptable

Introducing our new drink, The Pilot, featuring Bacardi Limon rum. Only $7 - this is allowed since the price is "anytime, any day," and also as long as no manufacturer or wholesaler money is involved in the retailer's advertising

And This Is Acceptable Too

20 wings and pitcher of Bud Light for $15.99 from 5-7 p.m. - discounted food may be advertised if the beer is regular menu price and if the ad is not being paid for by a manufacturer or distributor

[Editor's Note: In other words, if you're going to combine a discounted package, DISCOUNT THE FOOD, NOT THE ALCOHOL.]

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My assessment? I get it (I think), but there are some ambiguous areas. I believe people will innocently misinterpret these somewhat complicated regulations, and receive violations. If you receive a written violation, make sure you know exactly what is in violation, and exactly what must be done to correct the problem. It will be the restaurants that "test the borders of the law" who are going to run into trouble.

Also, there's no mention of whether or not a different "type" of violation is considered "a first violation" or not. What if someone gets a first, written violation for advertising a happy hour up until 10 PM, then fixes that, but then receives another violation for advertising discounted highballs 5-7 p.m. - is that also a first violation since it's for a different thing? Or is it a second violation?

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A companion piece:

"You're Not Paranoid, Restaurant Owners, Virginia ABC Really Did Start Following Everyone On Twitter" by Karry Peifer on richmond.com

From that article, Jennifer Guild, Public Relations Specialist at Virginia ABC, said, "In case you were wondering, the fine is: 'ABC will respond to the first violation of happy hour regulations with a written warning. Subsequent violations could trigger a fine of up to $2,000 and a seven-day suspension of a business's ABC license.'"

Takeaway from that quote: If you get a written warning, correct the problem.

And yes, Virginia restaurateurs: you are welcome to promote your happy hours here on donrockwell.com FOR FREE.

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@VirginiaABC, please DO come and post here - you're more than welcome, and I can expedite you a membership. Write me at donrockwell@dcdining.com. I, for one, appreciate how responsive you've been on Twitter. We all have to have laws, and I choose to believe you're here to help businesses work with those laws; not that you're "out to get them." Yes, regulations are a PITA, but much less so when the regulatory agency is willing to be transparent and work with businesses like you appear to be.

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Frankly the restriction seemed to be a weird stupid little archaic law.  Third party websites arose that were titled something like Arlington happy hours, Fairfax happy hours, etc.   Operators weren't sure if by putting their hours on a third party website they were in violation of the old law or not...and finding out involved a lot of calls, and checking on a stupid restriction.

Now all these Northern VA bars can blast away something along the lines of "Hey, y'all come on across the river and get stewed in our bar, rather than some DC rip off joint".  ;)

Before this, happy hour "deals" were available....there were just these archaic little laws restricting advertising, marketing.

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Frankly the restriction seemed to be a weird stupid little archaic law.  Third party websites arose that were titled something like Arlington happy hours, Fairfax happy hours, etc.   Operators weren't sure if by putting their hours on a third party website they were in violation of the old law or not...and finding out involved a lot of calls, and checking on a stupid restriction.

Now all these Northern VA bars can blast away something along the lines of "Hey, y'all come on across the river and get stewed in our bar, rather than some DC rip off joint".   ;)

Before this, happy hour "deals" were available....there were just these archaic little laws restricting advertising, marketing.

Re-read my post now that I've expanded it. There are still very restrictive laws at work here that are, to a reasonable person (assuming I'm a reasonable person), ambiguous.

I can parse a contract, or a paragraph, as well as any attorney, and what I've seen is not entirely clear to me. I suspect there is another source more fully detailing the law (I suppose it would be called the "Virginia Code,") but I've not seen it.

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oi.  there are still a lot of friggin detailed rules.  Who cares if one uses discount or happy hour????

OTOH:   If bars can add happy hour info on their websites and post big happy hour signs outside for the drive by and walk by traffic most of the important info is passed on to most of the public.   From my past conversations with bar owners and operators they were incredibly frustrated by the former rules.

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ok, here's a simple idea I just came up with.

Every law passed should have an expiration date.  Maybe 5 or 10 or 25 years into the future.  At the end of the term, the law must either be passed again or it expires.  Yes, I know that means legislators will spend tons of time voting on laws that have happened before - but that's their job.

I believe we get into these bizarre worlds by the fact that it is hard to repeal a law.  It is much easier to tweak an existing one or make a new parallel one.  So ideas that are dated or just plain stupid to begin with don't end, they just get more complicated.

* edit - yes, I'm sure someone's said this before.  I'm also sure there are good reasons this can't work.  But so what.

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