Cheers! A Brief Look at Recent Changes to the Liquor Control Act
July 21, 2015
Illinois bars can once again offer Happy Hours. On July 15, 2015, Public Act 99-0046 made significant changes to the Illinois "Happy Hour" law. Happy Hours had generally been prohibited in Illinois since 1989, when the law was restricted to offering drink specials all day, rather than for a limited number of hours. The new changes once again allowed for hourly drink specials subject to certain restrictions. Liquor establishments are still restricted to the following:
- The price of a drink during Happy Hour cannot be changed.
- Happy Hour price specials are limited to 4 hours per day (the 4 hour period does not have to be consecutive) and cannot occur after 10:00 p.m.
- Happy Hours may not exceed 15 hours in a week.
- Happy Hour times and prices must be posted at the establishment or on its website at least 7 days prior to the Happy Hour event.
While the new law allows for happy hour pricing specials, some offers are still prohibited. For example, bars can serve two drinks to one person but cannot offer 2-for-1 drink specials or offer a large drink for the price of a small. Bars cannot promote contests or games that involve alcohol.
Interestingly, while the new law made changes to several portions of the Liquor Control Act, it made no specific changes to the power that local public bodies possess in Section 5/4-1 of the Act nor did it specifically preempt any local authority on licensing. While the state law now allows Happy Hours, local liquor control ordinances may impose additional restrictions, licenses (and fees) on the Happy Hours or could prohibit them all together.
The new law also allows bars to mix and sell "infusion" drinks. 235 ILCS 5/6-22.5. Infusion drinks can be made in large volumes by adding fruit, spices or nuts to a spirit and aging it for up to two weeks. The statute has requirements on how the infusions can be prepared and stored, but do not require the bar to identify the "proof" of the drink.
Prior to Public Act 99-0046, hotels with more than one on-site location that sold alcohol (restaurant, lounge, pool-side bar, etc.) were required to have liquor licenses for each of those locations from the state. Now, a single license will be available for hotels that sell alcoholic beverages at multiple one-site locations as long as all locations are under a common ownership. While this law may streamline the necessary state licenses, it does not mean that local liquor ordinances will operate the same way. A local liquor ordinance may still require multiple licenses.
Anyone serving alcohol must complete a Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) course by specific deadlines. All Cook County establishments must comply as of July 1, 2015. All counties with a population exceeding 200,000 must comply by July 1, 2016. All counties with a population between 200,000 and 30,000 must comply by July 1, 2017 and all counties with a population of less than 30,000 must comply by July 1, 2018.
The BASSET program is the State of Illinois' responsible beverage seller/server program that is designed to encourage profitable, responsible and legal alcohol sales and service, but the effectiveness of the program has been debated among municipalities in the past.
Local Liquor Control Ordinances
Due to the seven-day posting requirement, we are likely to see the first Happy Hour pricing specials in the next week. It is critical that local liquor control authorities review current ordinances for compliance and, where appropriate, amend the ordinances. Local authorities need to determine whether to allow (and license) or prohibit Happy Hours.
For assistance reviewing your liquor control ordinances, contact any of the Heyl Royster Government attorneys who routinely draft, advise and represent local bodies in liquor commission matters.