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Thursday, October 15, 2009

$$s & Sense: OLCC Ponders Looser Happy Hour Laws

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 2:17 PM

The mighty Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) just can't keep up with Facebook. The state's 49 liquor inspectors had a hard enough time keep track of whether Oregon's roughly 10,000 booze vendors were sticking to the archaic state happy hour advertising rules when it was just sandwich boards and posters they had to keep an eye on. Now, with more Oregon restaurants and bars advertising their specials on Twitter, Facebook and national websites it's impossible for the inspectors to keep pace. Today the OLCC took the first step toward rewriting the 80s-era advertising restriction to finally bring the laws into sync with modern times.

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OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott spells out the current happy hour advertising rules. "Right now, you cannot advertise outside your establishment for any temporary reduction in alcohol price, no matter what you call it. It could be the 'OLCC Social Hour' and still not be allowed," says Scott, who says enforcing the rule has been more difficult recently because of the internet and because many more restaurants are starting happy hours to keep bringing in recession-era customers. "A lot more places are doing happy hours these days. It's a tough time for restaurants and they're doing whatever they can to get by."

Right now, if a bar hangs so much as a "$4 Jagerbomb Brunch" sign outside their window, they could be hit with a three day liquor license suspension or fined $495. Under the draft of the new rules, establishments of intoxication could advertise happy hours... as long as there no are specific "dollars and cents" prices attached. So "$4 Jagerbomb Brunch" would still be a punishable advertisement, but "Cheap Jagerbomb Brunch" or "Very Special Jagerbomb Brunch" would be a-okay.

Under both the current and revised rules, bars can advertise happy hour food specials all they want. That, of course, explains how three friends and I wound up with a $55 tab at Hungry Tiger Too's $1 vegan corndog night (true story).

Personally, I think the revision is still overly cumbersome and unenforceable—the inspectors are still going to have to troll through bars' Myspace pages to see if there's any reprehensible dollar signs. Like the old law, this one would either bog down the inspectors or become a very sporadically-enforced law entirely. The public process for changing the laws is a long one, though, and the revision could look much different once it comes out of the public hearing grinder sometime in 2010.

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