by W. Anthony Andrews (Fall 2015)

After being banned for 25 years, happy hours are again welcome in Illinois. Persuaded by the Illinois restaurant and tourism industries, Governor Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-0046 on July 15, 2015 making it now lawful for bars and restaurants to offer “happy hour” discounts on alcohol, but under strict limits. Previously, alcohol prices had to remain constant for the whole day, leading many establishments to offer food discounts.
This new law does not give restaurants and bars the unfettered right to offer discounts. There are a number of rules and restrictions contained in the new law. In addition the law requires new training for bartenders. The following are the five biggest changes:

Discounted drinks are now okay

Retail establishments may now offer reduced price drinks for a portion of the day provided the total happy hours does not exceed 4 hours in a day or 15 hours per week. Specials must be advertised at least a week in advance and cannot extend past 10:00 p.m. Although drink discounts are now permitted, “buy one, get one” specials are still prohibited.

New Restrictions on “Open-Bar” or “Unlimited” Specials

Previously, “open-bar” packages could only be sold to “private functions.” Over time, what constitutes a “private function” became murky. The new law allows “open-bar” packages only where the event includes the following:

  • Food;
  • “Dedicated event space;”Three-hour maximum duration;
  • Identification of eligible patrons such as by wristband and
  • Exclusion of the public from the dedicated event space.

Bottle Service

The new law specifically allows for the sale of buckets, pitchers and bottle service, without the prior requirement that two or more persons be served.

Statewide Training

Although many municipalities have long required training for bartenders and servers, the new law requires completion of a Statewide Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Training (BASSET) course. The goals and objectives of the BASSET program are:

  • Train and educate sellers and servers to engage in responsible alcohol service;
  • Spot signs of intoxication and utilize various intervention techniques;
  • Prevent DUIs and alcohol-related fatalities;
  • Stop underage sales and underage drinking;
  • Create safer communities and establishments where alcohol is served; and;
  • Educate owners, managers and staff on dram shop insurance, state laws, and local ordinances regarding alcohol service)

By July 1, 2018, all on-premise alcohol servers (and those required to check identification for alcohol service) will be mandated to take BASSET.

House-Infused Alcohol Regulations

With house-infused liquors on the rise, the new law seeks to ensure that the “peppercorn tequila” being served is reasonably sanitary. Under the new law, house-infused liquors can be aged for no more than 14 days and stored for no more than 21 days thereafter.

Most municipal codes have restrictions specifically banning happy hour discounts. These restrictions will continue to be valid unless and until they are specifically overturned by the municipality. Thus, bringing happy hour to your community may require some action on the part of the local government. This may also lend to a wide variation in happy hour rules across the state.

If you need assistance drafting local ordinances that match the state law, or would like to consider more restrictive rules, please contact one of our municipal law attorneys.