Is It Time For Rhode Island To Lift The Happy Hour Ban?

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The Ocean State is one of only eight states to prohibit drink specials.

Illinois just voted to repeal its 25-year old happy hour ban. Kansas repealed theirs in 2012. So should Rhode Island’s happy hour ban go by the wayside?

According to Time, these are the “unhappy” states that are left…

Alaska: In addition to bans on alcohol sales between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., Alaska bartenders cannot give out free drinks, deliver a drink to someone already in possession of two other alcoholic beverages, nor sell drinks at “a price less than the price regularly charged for the beverages during the same calendar week.” These and other laws restricting the sale of alcohol have been on the books since 1986.

Indiana: Like other states with happy hour bans, Indiana bars and restaurants are prohibited from reducing alcoholic beverage prices for any window of time during the course of a day. No two-for-one specials and the like either.

Massachusetts: The Commonwealth was the first state to ban happy hour, with legislation passed in 1984 outlawing bars and restaurants from temporarily changing alcoholic beverage prices any time during the course of a week.

North Carolina: Only food can be discounted during happy hour; discounting drinks for a brief period of time is prohibited.

Oklahoma: State laws do not allow establishments to “advertise or offer ‘happy hours’ or any other means or inducements to stimulate the consumption of alcoholic beverages,” and that specifically includes selling drinks “on any one day at prices less than those charged the general public on that day.” Some bars get around the somewhat vague language of the laws by discounting drinks for the entire weekend rather than a few hours per day on weekdays, and by calling their specials something like “Cattle Call” rather than Happy Hour.

Rhode Island: No happy hour specials on alcoholic beverages allowed.

Utah: A ban on happy hour drink deals went into effect in 2011

Vermont: Bars and restaurants are not allowed to reduce prices on alcoholic beverages at any point during a day.

According to a 2005 report the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “happy hours, drinking contests, ‘all you can drink’ specials, and the like encourage over-consumption by reducing prices, a potent inducement to drinking large amounts of alcohol in short time periods”. A statement, it should be said, they made with zero supporting evidence.

In fact, they only had one study on the effect of happy hour bans on alcohol consumption, conducted in Ontario, Canada, which found “No significant decline in alcohol consumption was observed following the ban”, though the NHTSA dismissed their findings, arguing that the study’s pre-ban research was limited (and didn’t coincide with what they wanted to say).

Economics and ideology can create strange bedfellows, and we face an interesting case where MADD and the owners of well-established bars and restaurants are both opposed to the lifting of such bans. MADD, because they’re opposed to anything involving drinking…and the bar owners who want to make sure their competition can’t undercut them, even if it’s for a few hours a day.

Now we live in America, a free, capitalist country where the markets create the winners and losers…but we also live in Rhode Island, where powerful interests have a veto on that in the State House and for some reason a good chunk of the residents cry “But what if _____” whenever anyone proposes expanding anyone’s freedoms, economic or otherwise.

The state just decided to increase the hourly minimum wage for tipped(aka “restaurant”) employees by a dollar, but if a bar owner reduces prices by a buck or two for a couple hours in the afternoon, they’ll face punishment by the state? We can accept inflation of prices to be an inevitability, but do we need the state of Rhode Island to act like it’s adopted it as the gov’t’s mission statement?

Then again, here in Newport, most of the clientele we’re looking to attract aren’t concerned with drink prices…provided they aren’t exceeding those in Manhattan and Miami nightclubs. The best a happy hour is going to do is get people out to bars and restaurants earlier…saving the staff those first couple dead hours before everything picks up around 6-7.

In the meantime, if you’re in Newport and looking for great prices way below what you’ll normally pay in a bar, check out Bridge Liquors.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Booze Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?