Happy Hour Ad Rules in O’Town | Fireman Mike | Old Town Post

Ever wonder why restaurants and bars in Old Town Alexandria don’t advertise the specifics of their happy hour drink specials?  How long can happy hour(s) last?  What can businesses say on their happy hour ads?  Why can’t I get 2 for 1 drinks like on Bourbon Street in New Orleans?

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (VAABC) dictates all aspects of alcohol sells within Old Town Alexandria and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.  Prior to January 29, 2014, Virginia restaurants could only advertise happy hour inside the establishment or on a 17-by-22-inch sign attached to the outside of the business.  So what’s the deal after January 29, 2014?   The following explanations and examples of VAABC regulations were taken from the VAABC web site.

“Happy hour” is 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 may not be conducted between 9 p.m. of each day and 2 a.m. of the following day.

Restaurants may use either the phrase “happy hour” or “drink specials” and may promote the time span of these drink specials on flyers and posters, social media, their website, a sandwich board located on the sidewalk outside their business and in print and broadcast ads.

Drink types, prices and discounts are permissible to advertise inside an establishment, as long as this cannot be viewed from the outside.  However, all external promotion of specific drink types, brands, prices and discounts is restricted.  For example, restaurants may not post on Facebook that they are offering $4 margaritas or run a radio commercial stating that they give a $2 discount on highball drinks from 4 to 6 p.m.

Is It Acceptable?

Here are some specific examples to let you know what is considered an acceptable promotion.

  • Happy hour from 4–7 p.m. daily!
  • Join us for happy hour drink specials.
  • We offer drink specials from 3–8 p.m. Monday–Friday.
  • Offering the best happy hour in Chesapeake.
  • Enjoy discounted margaritas from 4–7 p.m.
    No. The word discounted may not be used; the only approved phrases are “happy hour” and “drink specials.” Also, the drink type may not be listed (margaritas).
  • Beer and wine specials from 5–9 p.m. daily.
    No. Drink types may not be listed (beer and wine).
  • $2 off highballs!
    No. Drink types may not be listed (highballs). Also, specific discount amounts may not be promoted.
  • Thirsty Thursday: beer specials from 4–8 p.m.
    No. Drink types may not be listed (beer). In addition, “Thirsty Thursdays” or “Wet Wednesdays” or any other alcoholic beverage-related phrase cannot be promoted with the time frame.
  • 2-for-1 rail drinks during happy hour.
    No. 2-for-1 drink specials are illegal anytime and any place.
  • Valentine’s Day package: shared appetizer, pasta entrée, and dessert plus a bottle of Virginia-made wine for $50 per couple!
    Yes. Food and alcoholic drink package pairings may be promoted if an exact amount of alcohol is specified.
  • Happy hour 6–10 p.m. daily
    No. All happy hours and discounted drink offerings must end by 9 p.m.
  • New Year’s Eve package: One night at a hotel, dinner and brunch for two, and unlimited champagne for $175!
    No. Licensees may not offer unlimited alcoholic beverages.
  • Introducing our new drink, “The Pilot,” featuring Barcardi Limon rum. Only $7!
    Yes. If “The Pilot” is always $7 (anytime on any day), the drink may be advertised with both the cost and alcoholic beverage included as long as no manufacturer or wholesaler money is involved in the retailer’s advertising.

Any violation of the above happy hour regulations would be a violation of VAABC law and could result in the business owner losing their license to sell alcoholic beverages.

The VAABC is a major source of revenue for the commonwealth, contributing more than $1.7 billion to the general fund in the last five years. The agency currently operates 344 state stores. Its Bureau of Law Enforcement oversees more than 16,000 ABC licensed establishments while the Hearings and Appeals Division considers more than 700 cases each year.


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