It has been 28 years since Massachusetts became the first state to ban happy hour. The ban put an end to all promotions involving free or low priced drinks in an effort to cut down on drunk drives and drinking related deaths.
With businesses now looking for any revenue they can find, a new push to bring back happy hour has risen in the Commonwealth. Despite a failed effort to repeal the ban as part of the bill to legalize gambling in Massachusetts, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission will be holding the fourth in a series of five public hearings next week to see if the current regulations regarding happy hour should be updated.
With the talks of bringing back happy hour comes talk of more drunk drivers on the road, something that is unwanted by everyone. While some restaurant owners do want the option to have alcohol related specials, the reality is that an irresponsible promotion can encourage drunk driving or cause someone to drink a little more than they normally may drink.
In Wrentham, Doug Smith who owns the Tavern at Wrentham has taken a moderate approach to the issue. While he finds the current law too restrictive, he would not want to see a happy hour without regulation.
“Only in limited form because there is such a hazard with excessive and over drinking, and drunk driving,” Smith says. “One has to be careful with the discounts.”
Citing concerns with the risk of over serving someone, Smith said he would prefer to do food and drink combo specials instead of just drinks.
Another restaurant manager in Wrentham who preferred not to be mentioned by name did mention that happy hour could bring an added strain on a bartender's ability to determine whether a patron has had too much to drink before trying to drive home while reiterating that a bartender should know when someone is sober enough to drive home despite this.
At the same time, the manager did say that it would bring more people into the bar and as a bartender, that is the preference to have more business.
A return of happy hour could mean good things for Rob Burns who owns Casey O’Connor’s in Mansfield.
“It could have a dramatic effect. It could add 30%,” Burns said.
Admitting that he has yet to put much thought into something that is still theoretical, Burns, like Smith would consider doing mostly food and beer combo specials to make sure that people are eating while they drink. A special for example like $1 Bud Lights could help bring in a little more business on the slower nights of the week.
With concerns about drunk driving, Burns did admit that happy hour returning would put pressure on him to make sure customers were not.
“It heightens awareness. It puts people under the microscope,” Burns sad.
While Smith and Burns would like to see happy hour return in some form, the promotional event does have its detractors. Talking to FOX 25 on August 13, Davio’s CEO Steve DiFillippo came out against any legislation to bring back happy hour on the grounds that it would encourage customers to get drunk. Currently Davio’s does have a location at Patriot Place in Foxborough.
“There’s only one reason someone goes to happy hour and that’s to get drunk,” DiFillippo told the news station.
The next public hearing on the issue will be in Boston at the McCormick Building located at One Ashburton Place on Tuesday, August 21 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.