Virginia ABC > Licenses > Retail Resources > Happy Hour Advertising

Happy Hour Advertising

“Happy hour” is defined as a specified period of time during which alcoholic beverages are sold at prices reduced from the customary price established by a retail licensee. Happy hour may not be conducted between 9 p.m. of each day and 2 a.m. of the following day.

Restaurants may use either the phrase “happy hour” or “drink specials” and may promote the time span of these drink specials on flyers and posters, social media, their website, a sandwich board located on the sidewalk outside their business and in print and broadcast ads.

Drink types, prices and discounts are permissible to advertise inside an establishment, as long as this cannot be viewed from the outside. However, all external promotion of specific drink types, brands, prices and discounts is restricted. For example, restaurants may not post on Facebook that they are offering $4 margaritas or run a radio commercial stating that they give a $2 discount on highball drinks from 4 to 6 p.m.

Here are some specific examples to let you know what is considered acceptable promotion under the new regulation changes.



Happy hour from 4–7 p.m. daily


Join us for happy hour drink specials


We offer drink specials from 3–8 p.m. Monday–Friday


Offering the best happy hour in Chesapeake


Enjoy discounted margaritas from 4–7 p.m.

No. The word discounted may not be used; the only approved phrases are “happy hour” and “drink specials.” Also, the drink type may not be listed (margaritas).

Beer and wine specials from 5–9 p.m. daily

No. Drink types may not be listed (beer and wine).

$2 off highballs

No. Drink types may not be listed (highballs). Also, specific discount amounts may not be promoted.

Thirsty Thursday: beer specials from 4–8 p.m.

No. Drink types may not be listed (beer). In addition, “Thirsty Thursdays” or “Wet Wednesdays” or any other alcoholic beverage-related phrase cannot be promoted with the time frame.

2-for-1 rail drinks during happy hour

No. 2-for-1 drink specials are illegal anytime and any place

Valentine’s Day package: shared appetizer, pasta entrée, and dessert plus a bottle of Virginia-made wine for $50 per couple

Yes. Food and alcoholic drink package pairings may be promoted if an exact amount of alcohol is specified

Happy hour 6–10 p.m. daily

No. All happy hours and discounted drink offerings must end by 9 p.m.

New Year’s Eve package: One night at a hotel, dinner and brunch for two, and unlimited champagne for $175

No. Licensees may not offer unlimited alcoholic beverages

Introducing our new drink, The Pilot, featuring Barcardi Limon rum. Only $7

Yes. If The Pilot is always $7 (anytime on any day), the drink may be advertised with both the cost and alcoholic beverage included as long as no manufacturer or wholesaler money is involved in the retailer’s advertising.

Tips and Tricks

  • Be certain employees know the rules regarding happy hour and adhere to the 9 p.m. deadline for selling drinks at a reduced price. A server may intend to let a customer “slide in a little late,” but this is not an excuse for violating ABC law.
  •  “Happy hour” and “drink specials” are the only approved phrases for promotions. Words and phrases such as “discounts,” “discounted” or “Thirsty Thursdays” may not be used.
  • Do not specify types of drinks, brands or prices in happy hour promotions. Advertisements such as “$2 off cocktails” and “beer and wine specials” are not acceptable.


Q.        How many drinks can a patron purchase at one time?

A.         No more than two drinks of wine, beer or mixed beverages during Happy Hour. During all other times, no more than two mixed drinks at one time, wine and beer—no restriction.

Q.        Can I advertise two-for-one specials?

A.         No. Two-for-one drink specials are illegal anytime and any place.

Q.        Does food that I give away during happy hour count toward my food-to-mixed-beverage ratio?

A.         No. Any food given away does not count as a sale. In this example, the cost of the tacos does not count in calculating whether the restaurant has met the “45 percent rule” (at least 45 percent of total sales must be non-alcohol items). 3 VAC 5-70-90.F.