Hunting down a happy hour might soon get a little easier.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to approve a rule change that would permit restaurants and bars to use social media, email and other online platforms to advertise their happy hours.
The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control proposed the rule change, which would allow bars to promote the time span of their happy hour. Promotion of specific happy hour drink specials will still be restricted.
The pending change came as a result of a regulations review the ABC undertook in 2012. The review focused on “public safety and making business-friendly decisions,” according to a news release from the agency.
“These changes are part of the Regulations Review that we implemented and invited restaurant owners, wholesalers, suppliers and the public to attend and comment,” ABC Director of Public Affairs Becky Gettings said in an email Monday. “There were meetings and online comments. The Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association attended and the Virginia Nightlife Association attended or commented on the regulations.”
Currently, happy hour may only be advertised inside licensed premises, with the exception of a 17×22-inch sign that may be posted directly outside an establishment. The sign exception took effect in 2010.
A bill introduced last year in the General Assembly to allow for online happy hour ads didn’t gain any traction.
Mac McCormack, owner of McCormack’s Whiskey Grill & Smokehouse and McCormack’s Irish Pub, said he has been wary of everything he puts online about his establishments’ happy hours and that he supports the rule change.
“Just mentioning you have happy hour should be enough,” McCormack said. “It makes perfect sense.”
Jake Crocker, who owns two F.W. Sullivan’s eateries, Jorge’s Cantina, Lady N’Awlins and the Uptown Market & Deli, was part of a chorus of restaurant owners who have expressed confusion about the ABC’s regulation of happy hour advertising.
Although pleased with the recent rule change, Crocker pointed out that third parties, such as local publications, had already been “reporting” happy hour information for him.
“It’s not a game changer for us. It’s a clarification of the rules,” Jake Crocker said. “We should be able to control our information for the sake of accuracy … but we don’t want to get in a battle with who can give it away the cheapest.”