It has been 28 years since Massachusetts became the first state to ban happy hour. The ban put an end to all promotions involving free or low priced drinks in an effort to cut down on drunk driving incidents and deaths.
With businesses now looking for any revenue they can find, a new push to bring back happy hour has risen in the Commonwealth.
Despite a failed effort to repeal the ban as part of the bill to legalize gambling in Massachusetts, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission will be holding the fourth in a series of five public hearings next week to see if the current regulations regarding happy hour should be updated.
With talks of bringing back happy hour comes talk of more drunk drivers on the road; a result that is universally unwanted.
While some restaurant owners do want the option to have alcohol related specials, the reality is that an irresponsible promotion can inadvertently encourage someone to drink more in less time, which may lead to drunk driving.
In Wrentham, Doug Smith, who owns the Tavern at Wrentham, has taken a moderate approach to the issue. While he finds the current law too restrictive, he would not want to see a happy hour without regulation.
“Only in limited form, because there is such a hazard with excessive and over drinking, and drunk driving,” Smith says. “One has to be careful with the discounts.”
Citing concerns with the risk of over serving someone, Smith said he would prefer to do food and drink combo specials instead of just drinks.
"I think it would drive a lot more sales for the local bars, chain restaurants and everything," said Stacey Kitt, a bartender in Wrentham.
Kitt went on to say that the added business, while stressful, would be better in the long run for her as a bartender.
"That's what you want, you want there to be business and you want it to busy," she said. "That's what everybody's trying to do anyways, promote and increases sales."
One potential problem with happy hour would be the added strain on a bartender's ability to determine whether a patron has had too much to drink before trying to drive home.
Kitt said she believes that, regardless of the volume of people going through the bar, a bartender should still be able to make sure their patrons are sober enough to get home safely.
"It's not going to make a huge difference," she said. "It's not going to change a bartender's ability to make a judgement call. They [bartenders], should be trained on how to handle a situation like that."
In Mansfield, a return of happy hour could mean good things for Rob Burns, who owns Casey O’Connor’s.
“It could have a dramatic effect. It could add 30 percent,” Burns said.
Admitting that he has yet to put much thought into something that is still theoretical, Burns, like Smith would consider doing mostly food and drink combo specials to ensure people are eating while they drink.
For example, a special like $1 Bud Lights could help bring in a little more business on the slower nights of the week.
With concerns about drunk driving, Burns says happy hour returning would put added stress on him to make sure customers were not.
“It heightens awareness. It puts people under the microscope,” Burns sad.
While Smith and Burns would like to see happy hour return in some form, the promotional event does have its detractors.
Talking to FOX 25 on Aug. 13, Davio’s CEO Steve DiFillippo came out against any legislation to bring back happy hour on the grounds that it would encourage customers to get drunk. Davio’s has a location at Patriot Place in Foxborough.
“There's only one reason someone goes to happy hour and that’s to get drunk,” DiFillippo told the news station.
The next public hearing on the issue will be in Boston at the McCormick Building located at One Ashburton Place on Tuesday, Aug. 21 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Mansfield's Catman Cafe owner Steve Cerullo said he doesn't even think the bill will get past the legislature, let alone be passed by the state. Cerullo said he does not want to think about such a bill before it becomes reality.
"I'm very pessimistic about [the state] ever doing anything like a happy hour again," he said.