Happy Hour is a favorite pastime for Americans who want to kick back at the end of a long workday with a few friends. Maybe you want to grab a quick drink, or you just want to indulge in the local bar’s Happy Hour wing specials.
Across the country, bars and restaurants advertise cheap food and drinks during the early dinner hours. Happy Hours are an excellent way to relax and get a cheap meal. But did you know several states have banned or limited Happy Hour?
You heard that right. In 8 “unhappy” states, it’s illegal to have or promote a Happy Hour drink special.
Why? Well, the main reason is that it discourages binge drinking and drunk driving. Happy Hour often invites excessive drinking by way of cheap drinks.
States with Illegal Happy Hour
Here are the states that decided to take matters into their own hands and ban Happy Hour entirely.
When it comes to laws surrounding alcohol, Alaska has some of the strictest for bartenders and restaurants.
Although running specials is a common way to draw in customers, Alaska strictly forbids restaurants from selling drinks for less than they’d usually charge.
Not only that but a bartender can’t give out free drinks or deliver a third to someone still holding onto their first and second.
So, if you’re hoping your bartender might grace you with a drink on the house, you might want to head to the Lower 48 because this 1986 law isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Speaking of strict alcohol laws, did you know you couldn’t purchase alcohol in Indiana on election day until 2010? And as of 2018, you couldn’t buy alcohol on Sundays?
So it should come as no surprise that the state also has a ban on Happy Hours. The only caveat is that businesses can run all-day drink specials, providing a bit of a loophole to the rule.
If you’ve been holding out hope for two-dollar pitchers since the law’s inception three decades ago, you can keep those fingers crossed.
Current state legislators are at work attempting to lift the ban, but it’s not clear whether those attempts will be successful.
Massachusetts was the first state in the country to ban discounts on alcoholic beverages.
In 1984, when the fear of youth drunk driving incidents was gaining traction, Governor Dukakis signed the state’s ban on discounted drinks.
The law had the support of lawmakers, citizens, and many bar and restaurant owners.
However, as times changed over the last thirty years, so have perspectives. Today, many lawmakers are revisiting the ban.
In 2021, renewed interest in allowing Happy Hour arose due to its potential for increasing business revenue. It’s likely the upcoming years will show a reversal of the ban as a way to give small businesses a boost.
North Carolina has a lot of rules when it comes to Happy Hour specials, and none of them allow for the sale of discounted drinks.
Business owners aren’t allowed to discount alcohol for any purpose, sell more than one alcoholic beverage to a customer at a time, or base prices on purchasing multiple drinks at once.
North Carolina’s law is so granular that it prevents the sale of pitchers and buckets to a single individual.
In other words, don’t plan on ordering that bucket of beer for your friends until everyone’s at the table. Like other states, the law came into effect in the 1980s, and there are no renewed efforts to lift it.
Oklahoma’s Happy Hour laws evolved to allow discounted drinks in the last few years, but there are still a few provisions. Specifically, owners are restricted by the following:
- A drink can’t be discounted more than 6% off the regular price
- Owners can’t offer unlimited, free, or bottomless drinks
- Owners can’t offer larger drinks for the same price as a smaller drink
And, like several other states, bartenders can’t sell multiple drinks to one person or to someone who’s already intoxicated.
So, while you might not get your bottomless margaritas, you’ll still be able to enjoy a moderately-discounted beer alongside your 2-for-1 wings.
In 1985 amid concerns about drunk driving, Rhode Island joined other states to pass a Happy Hour ban.
The purpose was to discourage binge drinking and decrease the number of drunk drivers on the road.
However, views have changed since then, as rideshare services and education on the dangers of drunk driving have increased.
Today, lawmakers see Happy Hour as a way to revitalize small businesses. On April 27, 2022, a measure lifting Happy Hour bans passed the House and moved into the Senate.
The only caveat is that drink specials would need to be part of a larger transaction that includes food.
While a handful of other states are working to lift the ban on Happy Hour, Utah is the most recent state to restrict the practice.
In 2011, a ban on Happy Hour joined the list of the state’s other strict alcohol regulations. As a result, restaurant owners can’t offer discounts or freebies on any type of alcoholic beverage.
Despite an ensuing lawsuit from bar and restaurant owners and requests from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the measure still stands.
In addition, residents can only purchase drinks with more than 4% ABV from state-run liquor stores.
Vermont has a handful of laws limiting the sale of alcohol. As with other states, the laws were put in place to keep people safe by preventing binge drinking and drunk driving.
Other regulations include the prohibition of drip pans, limiting pitcher sizes, and banning public drinking games.
However, although the state bans Happy Hour, there’s no ban on Happy Days. And no, I’m not talking about the show. I’m talking about Thirsty Thursdays and Martini Mondays.
Establishments are welcome to advertise drinks specials that last all day but not for a set number of hours.
States with Illegal Happy Hour
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Although bans on Happy Hour might seem excessive or even draconian, the intent behind each was good.
When the laws came into effect, drunk driving, binge drinking, and alcohol-related deaths were of huge concern to citizens across the country. Happy Hour bans were meant to ease those concerns.
However, as time passed, we learned more about the dangers of drinking and driving. There are many safeguards in place that prevent driving drunk, including easy access to cabs and rideshare services.
Bartenders are also well-trained in knowing when and how to cut a person off.
So, it’s likely we’ll see many of these bans lifted in time. But for now, it seems as though they’re here to stay in many states.
Learn more about the restaurant industry on our blog, like rules about bringing your own drink or the easiest fast food restaurants to work at.
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