Illinois happy-hour law comes with strings attached

Illinois happy-hour law comes with strings attached

With the passage of Senate Bill 398, many are heralding the “return of happy hour” in Illinois after two decades of  a statewide ban on the practice.

The new law the Illinois General Assembly passed on July 15 does make after-work drink specials legal – sort of.

Now, establishments with liquor licenses can offer discounted drink specials for a total of 15 hours per week. These hours don’t have to be consecutive, but they can’t exceed four hours per day and can’t run later than 10 p.m. – and the licensee must post the details of the special on its website at least seven days prior to the special date. SB 398 retains the existing “2 for the price of 1” drink ban, but would legalize drinks as part of a meal package.

In exchange, bartenders and anyone else serving alcohol is now required by law to attend “responsible alcohol service” training from the Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training, essentially a mandatory lesson in how to recognize when someone has been overserved.

Before Illinois politicians passed SB 398, bars weren’t allowed to offer certain special drink prices – for example, deals like “$15 for all you can drink from 4-6 p.m.” were against the law. But if you’ve ever been to a bar in Chicago, you’ve probably noticed that liquor-license holders can get creative to offer customers deals anyway. Bars got around this silly rule by swapping out happy hours for “happy days.” A staple for many proprietors is the all-day drink special, such as half-price margaritas on Thursdays or $10 off bottles of wine on the weekends. The authors of the law, who wanted to curb binge drinking, probably didn’t see that coming.

SB 398 moves state law in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t go so far as fully legalizing happy hours – and it actually makes it harder for the men and women tending bar to make a living.

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Tags: happy hour

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