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Restaurant owners toast changes in Va. happy hour rules

Saturday - 1/18/2014, 11:29am  ET

VIENNA, Va. - Starting this month, your favorite Virginia watering hole will be able to advertise happy hour specials on its website.

Anyone who's ever tried to find out when and which restaurants will be offering happy hour in the Old Dominion knows you won't find that basic information on an establishment's site because an age-old law has prohibited the practice.

"It's really weird that I can't tweet that we have Happy Hour starting at four o'clock in the afternoon," says Chef Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff's Tyson's Corner in Vienna.

Tracy is also chairman of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, a group that worked with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to bring about changes in state liquor regulations during the last 18 months.

"When this law was passed they had never heard of Facebook, Twitter or anything like that. I don't even think the internet existed," Tracy says.

Now regulations will be watered down, starting on Jan. 29, in a move welcomed by restaurants across the commonwealth.

Right now, restaurants can only advertise happy hour times inside their restaurant or outside on 17-inch by 22-inch attached signs. That means print, broadcast and online advertisements and promotions were not allowed. When the approved regulation changes take effect "we'll be able to post the information on the website other than specific prices on the drinks," Tracy says.

"Being able to advertise them without worrying about the fact that you're gonna get fined by the ABC or you're breaking some sort of regulation or law…it's a nice thing," says Tracy, who owns multiple restaurants in the D.C. area.

"The process involved gathering recommendations from the public, alcohol industry representatives, restaurant owners and other key stakeholders, and was focused on public safety and business-friendly decisions," said ABC Chief Operating Officer Curtis Coleburn in a statement.

One rule that will remain a buzz kill for restaurants is that "we still can't advertise price, which is still a little bit ridiculous. It's like we are almost there but not quite," Tracy says. "You really should be able to advertise the products that you provide."

But Chef Geoff says he hopes that restriction will be lifted in the coming years and applauds the changes that will kick in at the end of the month.

"I think this is a big win for customers. I think it is a great win for restaurants."

In addition to the state loosening its grip on how a restaurant advertises their pre-dinner specials, infusions and growlers will also make a comeback.

Growlers, or closed containers of wine, cider or beer, can now be taken home from gourmet shops and restaurants with on- and off-premises licenses. Before, only beer could be taken home in growlers.

It has also been against the law for restaurants or bars to add fruits, herbs or vegetables to bottles of distilled liquor, a process known as infusing. Starting on Feb. 26, if an establishment has an ABC mixed-beverage license, they can make the flavorful concoctions.

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