Virginia ABC > Licenses > Retail Resources > Happy Hour Promotion

Happy Hour Promotion

Upcoming Changes to Happy Hour Advertising

Starting July 1, 2019, changes to current happy hour advertising laws will go into effect.

Upcoming legislation will allow establishments to include prices when advertising happy hours, as well as creative terms in advertising, such as “Wine Down Wednesday,” or “Thirsty Thursday.” Happy hour specials may not promote over-consumption or underage drinking.

More information on upcoming changes to happy hour advertising laws will be available here before July 1, 2019.

Do you have questions about what you can and can’t do related to happy hour? You’re not alone.

Virginia ABC special agents frequently get questions about happy hour rules and regulations. We understand that it can seem confusing.

This summary of happy hour regulations is meant for general guidance only. To be sure you have all the details regarding happy hour, you should read the full regulation in 3 VAC 5-50-160.

It’s important for licensees to maintain a regular, proactive relationship with your special agent. If you have specific questions about conducting happy hour or language used to promote happy hour, please contact your special agent.

“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. and 2 a.m.
  • Restaurants may only use one of two phrases for promotions: “happy hour” or “drink specials.”
  • Businesses may promote the time span of their happy hour, and may list specific drink types and brands.
  • Restaurants may promote drink specials on flyers, posters, social media, their website and in advertisements.
  • External promotion (outside of the business) of happy hour prices and discount amounts is restricted.
  • Two-for-one drink specials are illegal.

Be certain all employees know the rules regarding happy hour and adhere to the 9 p.m. deadline for selling drinks at a reduced price. The licensee could incur violations if staff let a customer “slide in a little late.”

Revised July 31, 2017

When it comes to operating your mixed-beverage business in compliance with the Commonwealth’s alcohol regulations, the food and beverage ratio is paramount.

For the mixed beverage licensee, current ABC regulations stipulate that a minimum 45 percent of the total gross sales must be from food and nonalcoholic beverages. Conversely, alcohol sales should comprise no more than 55 percent of these sales.

In addition, monthly sales of food prepared and consumed on your premises must be at least $4,000 of which no less than $2,000 shall be in the form of meals with substantial entrees.

It sounds simple enough. But sometimes restaurants do not meet these minimum requirements. Your special agent is ready to help you avoid the costly consequences of not meeting the food beverage ratio. In addition to our standard inspections, our special agents visit mixed beverage licensees during nontraditional meal times to advise you on ways you can follow the “45 percent rule.”

We should be able to order a menu item anytime during your operating hours to ensure food sales are being conducted in the proper way. (Prepackaged snacks aren’t really the intent of the regulation regarding the 45 percent rule.) While we wait, we’ll ask to check out your kitchen and expect to see that the grill is on. We also want to see food in your freezer and other food storage facilities.

Although buffets are convenient they can be danger zones for the mixed beverage licensee trying to stay in compliance. It is incumbent upon the licensee, if using food from a buffet to meet your food beverage ratio, that the buffet fare is actually consumed by a customer. You must be able to document this.

When your special agent arrives for his or her visit, be prepared to discuss various points of your business. Keep regular, accurate records on site, that are immediately for review. Meeting the food-beverage ratio requirement is important if you wish to avoid fines and suspension or revocation of your license.

When your business is operating correctly that’s good for you, and it’s good for Virginia’s business.



M-B-A-R. For the mixed beverage licensee, these four letters are very important.

The MBAR, or Mixed Beverage Annual Review, is the name of a report that documents the food and beverage sales of mixed-beverage licensees. These licensees, who include restaurants, caterers and clubs, are required by law to submit an MBAR to Virginia ABC once a year on the anniversary of the issuance of their license.

The one-page form, provided by Virginia ABC, requires the sales totals for each month of the reporting year in four categories:

  • food & non-alcoholic beverages
  • mixed beverages
  • wine and beer
  • miscellaneous  

In addition to this form, mixed beverage licensees must attach a list of all alcoholic beverages in their inventory on the last day of their reporting year. Virginia ABC also supplies forms for this purpose.

The information provided in the MBAR report is used to verify that a mixed beverage licensee is in compliance with the 45 percent rule that states food and nonalcoholic beverages must account for at least 45 percent of the total gross sales of mixed beverages and food.

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Contact Your Agent

Special agents are the primary resource for questions related to operating a business with an ABC license. Contact a special agent via your regional ABC office.
This information is meant for general guidance only. For specific questions, contact your ABC special agent. To view ABC laws and regulations, visit Virginia’s Legislative Information System.