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Small Biz Wins: Virginia Bars Can Advertise Happy Hour Specials

Group of beer glasses raised together
By Andrew Leonatti | Last updated on

For many of us working stiffs, thinking about an afternoon or evening happy hour with friends, family, or coworkers helps us get through the work day. That first sip tastes like victory in the daily battle against the monotony of office life.

And for us lucky enough to live and work near a variety of watering holes, we can tailor our daily choices based on which bars and restaurants have the best specials.

But not so for Virginians! Well, you see, they could enjoy happy hour, they just could not know which drinking establishments had the best specials. Until this month, that is.

Now on Tap: Thirsty Thursdays and Sunday Fundays, Etc.

Facing a lawsuit from a local restaurateur, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law permitting a much-wider range of advertising for happy hours, including:

  • Special drink prices, drink types, and brands
  • Creative names for happy hour days
  • Happy hour durations
  • Promoting specials in all advertising

If you own a bar or restaurant in Virginia, you still cannot:

  • Hold happy hour between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
  • Offer two-for-one, three-for-one, bottomless, or related drink specials that involve giving away alcohol for free

According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented chef Geoff Tracy in his lawsuit, he ran afoul of Virginia law by displaying menus outside of his restaurants that contained the special prices for “Wine Down Wednesday” and “Margarita Thursday.” Prior to July 1, Tracy could only use the terms “happy hour” and “drink specials” in any advertising.

A First Amendment Victory

At its core, the lawsuit was a free speech matter. Because Virginia law already allowed happy hour specials (unlike many other states), the government was essentially censoring truthful information from the public.

If you are a business owner, the ability to advertise your prices and specials allows you to remain competitive in the market. When the government prevents you from doing that, you have the ability to press your case.

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