A Challenge to Virginia’s Very Bad Happy Hour Regulations

I lived in Northern Virginia for pert near ten years. Shortly after moving there, I learned from Scott Bullock at the Institute for Justice that Virginia had a particularly bad set of rules governing alcohol.

Every bar owner, for example, is required to pay the full list retail price for booze. No case discounts. No promotional benefits for buying this versus that. Oh, and all of that alcohol has to be purchased at the same state-owned stores where the rest of us get our booze.

But it didn’t stop there. Bar owners also are prohibited from alerting potential customers to information about drink specials. That is, bars aren’t allowed to tell passersby about the actual benefits of their own happy hours.

Austin Bragg and I produced a short video detailing this issue in 2009.

Now, thank goodness, the Pacific Legal Foundation and Chef Geoff are challenging these rules. The restrictions are obviously unconstitutional, but commercial speech just hasn’t received the protection it deserves.

The Virginia rules strictly circumscribe the acceptable terminology for advertising happy hours. The firm’s case notes say, “While the state allows happy hour specials, it bans advertising happy hour prices, as well as the use of any terms other than ‘happy hour’ or ‘drink specials.’ Also, while restaurants may offer half-priced drinks, it’s illegal to call these specials ‘two-for-one.'”

This is an overdue and welcome challenge.