Making “Happy Hour” Happier
If you live in Virginia and have ever worked in a restaurant (or know someone who does), then you know a little something about weird and restrictive ABC laws. ABC stands for Alcoholic Beverage Control, and this particular agency has plenty of rules for restaurants about how their “happy hours” can work. You can confidently know the laws are confusing when the agency itself says so on its own website.
Well, one restaurant owner has had enough, and he is fighting those confusing rules in court. He wants more freedom over how he can promote his “happy hour” specials. The basis for his argument is the First Amendment.
What Does the First Amendment Say Again?
The First Amendment has five pillars: 1) freedom of speech, 2) freedom of the press, 3) freedom of religion, 4) the right to assemble in peaceful protest, and 5) the right to petition. This is a very loaded amendment. Freedom of speech allows for expression “without having to worry about government interference.” Like most Amendments however, the First Amendment is not absolute.
Since the Virginia ABC is an agency of the commonwealth and has made restrictions on the speech that restaurant owners can use, there are grounds – at least on a surface level – for a First Amendment lawsuit against “happy hour” rules. This is because the Bill of Rights only applies against the government. In other words, the First Amendment is designed to protect us from the government (and not private entities).
How Do the ABC’s “Happy Hour” Rules Limit Free Speech?
ABC laws as it relates to “happy hours” do technically restrict speech. There are only two phrases that a restaurant can use to promote these specific times of sales: “happy hour” and “drink specials.” No other phrases are allowed.
The location of where these phrases can be used is also limited to the interior of the restaurant. Have you ever walked the sidewalk of a busy commercial location and observed signs set up promoting a particular dish or food special? You probably have not seen one that promotes “happy hour” or “drink special.” That is because it would be illegal.
The Administrative Code – the portion of Virginia law that specifically sets these standards for restaurants – also prohibits one other thing. No restaurant can promote drink specials as being “two for one.” This is the case even if a drink is half off its normal price.
Why Do These “Happy Hour” Rules Exist?
That is not so easy to answer. There was a time when people were concerned about what would happen to the general state of society if limitations were not placed on people’s ability to drink. There are some today who still share that concern.
One can give the benefit of doubt to government officials in general and say that laws made sense at a certain time and/or place. It is pretty common for laws to expire in their importance or become out-of-date with modern times. This blog has covered, for instance, the financial boundaries of petit larceny and grand larceny on a few occasions.
Perhaps it is time to examine how we treat “happy hour.” Sadly, it sometimes takes the efforts of interested citizens to force government officials to make those changes. That is the case here with this lawsuit. Thankfully, there are attorneys available who can provide the legal assistance needed in these kinds of situations. If this is you now, and you are looking for an attorney, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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