The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has proposed regulations that may slow the profitable new flow of "Happy Hour" business enjoyed by Northern Virginia pubs and restaurants.
The proposal being considered by the state's three-member ABC commission would tighten restrictions on all advertising of these after-work watering sessions by prohibiting any mention of particular types of liquor, including less expensive "house brands," on all outside signs and media promotions. Signs will be able to advertise a "Happy Hour," but without indicating just what a "Happy Hour" is. The listing of specific prices for liquor on outdoor shingles has been illegal since laws were relaxed on July 1, 1981, to permit the use of the term "Happy Hour."
According to Virginia ABC spokesman Thomas Weedon, the proposed regulations are nothing new. "This is a practice that has already been in effect," he said; "the proposed changes in the law only serve to clarify the situation."
He said that the ABC commission is not trying to stop Virginians from drinking; rather, it is attempting to encourage the controlled use of alcohol.
"We are not in the business of promoting the consumption of alcohol," he said. And, using the names of "house brands" with the lure of reduced prices "is a considerable inducement for people to drink," he said.
Weedon said establishments still may use the phrase "Happy Hour" in advertising, but only in conjunction with the sale of food. Any additional lures are sure to win the pub owner a citation. Popular drink specials and theme drinking sessions, such as "beach parties," where a particular brand of liquor is advertised for sale, also will be forbidden.
The ABC commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules on June 16 in Richmond.
Virginia Del. Warren Barry (R-Springfield) calls the proposal "a disappointment. It was my understanding that the two members of the board who resigned had been replaced by people with a 20th-century mentality."
Barry, a member of the House of Delegates' ABC subcommittee and sponsor of last year's legislation elevating Virginia's legal drinking age to 19 for carry-out beer, said of the board, "As a legislator, I have seen them in action for years and this is another step backward."
Comments from local pub and restaurants owners concerning the proposed changes were mixed. Several said they were confused by the law and thought "Happy Hour" advertising was still illegal.