Chef Geoff Files Suit Against Virginia ABC Over Happy Hour Law

Restaurants and bars can't use phrases like "Wine Down Wednesday" in Virginia to advertise happy hour

What to Know

  • Geoff Tracy, the owner of three Chef Geoff's restaurants, is filing suit against Virginia ABC over happy hour advertisement laws.
  • In Virginia, restaurants and bars can only say "happy hour" and "drink specials" in their ads. They cannot say the price of the drinks.
  • Tracy claims the law is unconstitutional and restricts his creativity and ability to attract customers to his Tysons Corner restaurant.

Happy hour is about to have its day in court.

Geoff Tracy, who owns three Chef Geoff's restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, is fighting to remove restrictions on how drink specials are advertised in Virginia.

It's common to see bars and restaurants in D.C. and Maryland use wording such as "Wine Down Wednesday" or "Thirsty Thursday" to advertise their happy hour specials, but such phrasing is not allowed in the Commonwealth.

"I can’t take a picture of it and say, you know, this is a seven dollar glass of wine at happy hour. I can’t call it anything other than 'happy hour' or 'drink specials.' So that's sort of like dialing back the creativity," Tracy told News4.

If businesses break the rules, they could face a fine or the state may take away their liquor license.

Tracy has filed suit against the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority for what he says is an "absurd prohibition era regulation." He said he sees it as a First Amendment issue and wants to advertise at his Tysons Corner location the same way he does in D.C. and Maryland.

"The state’s happy hour advertising restrictions...prohibit businesses from communicating entirely truthful and non-misleading information to their customers on the theory that censorship, when it pertains to alcohol, is for the consumer’s own good. These outdated and paternalistic notions cannot justify the state’s unconstitutional burdens on speech," the federal lawsuit claims.

The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority said in a statement to News4 that businesses may promote the time span of their happy hour, and may list specific drink types and brands, but they can only say "happy hour" or "drink specials" for promotions.

Tracy said the law also restricts him from advertising the price of the special.

"Happy hour three to seven - come and find out the prices. It's just kind of a little bit weird and, again, takes the creativity out of it," Tracy said.

Virginia ABC would not comment on the pending litigation.

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