Boston Restauranteurs Largely Against Lifting Happy Hour Ban

“Happy hour is a very bad thing for our industry," says one.

The state's alcohol control board is looking at , but Massachusetts restauranteurs are largely against the idea. 

About two dozen of them showed up to a hearing on the topic in Boston Tuesday, and all but one spoke against legalizing cheap drinks.

"The majority of them were in favor of maintaining the happy hour ban," Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, told Patch.

What the board heard in Boston largely mirrors what it has heard in other parts of the state at the three previous hearings on happy hour, Carlisle said.

Happy hour, or a period of time in which bars or restaurants offer free or discounted drinks, was banned 28 years ago because many said it encouraged binge drinking and drunken driving. 

And it seems that restauranteurs have been happy with the ban. Some say that lifting it would weaken the already-thin margins bars operate under, and others say it puts bars in danger of overserving customers. 

“Happy hour is a very bad thing for our industry,” Austin O’Connor, who owns Ned Devine’s, the Green Briar, the Harp and M.J. O’Connor’s, said, according to the Boston Herald. “Happy hour only encourages overconsumption.”

And one restaurant group, the Restaurant and Business Alliance, would like the rules modified. "We support limiting drink specials," Executive Director Vincent Errichetti told Patch.

"We've always said we were against happy hour. Drink specials can go on for seven days, and we just don't think that that's responsible at all. That means that it's straddling Friday, Saturday and Sunday. My members don't want it, they never have wanted that. We want to see that reduced and limited," he said.

When the casino bill was being debated in the State House, the alliance was concerned about a level playing field, meaning that casinos would not be able to offer free drinks – but not meaning that happy hour would come back to bars. 

It's not giving away alcohol that restauranteurs think will stimulate their business. "What we would like to see is a meals-tax holiday to help the restaurant industry," Errichetti said.

The state's alcohol board will conclude its public hearings Sept. 18 in Northampton and submit a written report of its recommendations by June 30 to the governor, treasurer and Legislature. 

So far, the alcohol board has only heard from restauranteurs and public safety groups, he said.

Courtney O'Keefe August 26, 2012 at 06:38 PM
College kids with freshly minted fake IDs are a bartender/bouncer issue and not a Happy Hour issue. Shoestring budgets can prompt them to go to one bar for a $2 Bud draft rather than another because they don't sell Budweiser products. I have yet to walk into a bar that is aiming for "school kid dollars" as it certainly wasn't "school kid dollars" or shoestring budgets that got the establishment a license in the first place and those nickels and dimes won't get it back if the Licensing Commission decides to pull it. Business owners know the license is their's to lose. With that said, if a bar wants a Happy Hour, they should have a special license that they apply for with a 60-day probation period where they are subject to unannounced visits from officials that can pull all licenses should there be an issue. I don't think it has to be yay or nay...there can be a compromise. The opinion of the business owners should be at the forefront of any discussion that surrounds the topic and the decision should mirror the majority of that opinion.
Jonah Petri August 26, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Courtney - You said: " I have yet to walk into a bar that is aiming for 'school kid dollars'". Well, having gone to college in the Metro Boston area, I can say with utmost confidence that such bars exist. You might have not yet walked into one such bar. Bars depend on having a certain class of clientele (much like any restaurant) and there were many bars which were known around campus for being quite lax about ID checks, and an easy and cheap place to get drunk. (Disclaimer: I graduated in 2002, so perhaps these things have radically changed.) Also, if personal anecdotes aren't particularly compelling to you (and they shouldn't be!) I'll cite this paper from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which summarizes the scientific understanding of such issues: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/pireweb/images/2240pierfinal.pdf "Research of Happy Hour and Other Drink Specials Practices: Previous research demonstrates that alcohol consumption, intoxication, and drinking/driving rates are sensitive to the price of alcoholic beverages (Chaloupka, et al., 2002). Underage people and young adults are particularly affected by the cost of alcohol. Studies show that increases in the price of alcohol significantly reduce the number of drinks consumed by this population (Grossman, et al., 1998; Chaloupka, et al., 2002)."
Courtney O'Keefe August 27, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Jonah, I also graduated in 2002 and, yes, they have radically changed. With more businesses vying for beer/wine & full liquor licenses, the expectations are stricter and the licenses are pulled faster. Maybe they will ease if the charter change to provide unlimited beer/wine licenses for Somerville is approved at the State level. Chris, The commenter above me (Phong Van) seems to be a spammer and has commented on numerous other posts, as well.
Michael J Wade August 27, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Happy Hour in Boston is a bad idea. There have been numerous studies (like the one Jonah references) that prove that not only is excessive alcohol consumption linked to alcohol prices, but that over consumption leads to increases in alcohol related injuries and deaths. While I can appreciate that local businesses would like access to this new facet of the market, it just doesn't hold up to the safety concerns involved. I have nothing against the safe and responsible enjoyment of alcoholic beverages outside of the home, but this business model would only encourage and enable unsafe situations which exceed the benefit gained by the business.
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