Illinois Happy Hour Law

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Up until several years ago, individuals looking for happy hour drink specials in Illinois would have found themselves out of luck. Under the Happy Hour Law, Illinois restaurants and bars were prohibited from offering alcoholic drinks at a reduced price during special times of the day. The statewide ban was passed in 1989 as an attempt to reduce the state’s number of drunken driving cases and continued until it was lifted in July of 2015. According to The Chicago Tribune, it did seem to have an effect. In 1988, 49.6 percent of all fatal crashes in the state were alcohol-related, but by 2012 that number was 41 percent.

Despite the apparent success of the law, there were a number of ways that restaurants and bars could get around the inability to hold happy hour. For example, although a bar couldn’t offer happy hour specials, they could still offer happy day events, during which certain drinks were offered at a special price for the entire day (Washington Post). Higher-end restaurants also routinely ignored the ban against offering a drink special with a meal. Crain’s Chicago Business reports.

The new law, Public Act 99-0046, brought the happy hour back to Illinois bars and restaurants in 2015. The Act amends The Liquor Control Act of 1934, and outlines a few requirements that establishments must meet before implementing a happy hour period. The first thing an establishment must do to legally offer happy hour drink specials is to give notice of the discount 7 days prior to the promotion period. Notice can be given by advertising the drink specials either on the premises or on the establishment’s website.

The law also limits the number of hours per week any establishment can designate at happy hours to 15 hours.  Discounted drinks cannot be offered for more than 4 hours in any one day, those hours do not have to be consecutive, however, leaving open the possibility for more than one happy hour event on the same day. Happy hour specials cannot be scheduled after 10:00 p.m., and once the promotion period has started, the establishment is not allowed to change the price of a drink (235 ILCS 5/6-28).

Along with these restrictions, Public Act 99-0046 also describes conditions under which drinks can accompany meals or be included as part of a package deal at a tour, tasting, or other event. While the Act expressly bans establishments from offering unlimited alcoholic drinks during a happy hour promotion, however unlimited packages can be offered at private functions not open to the public.  Establishments can offer “meal packages” that combine food and, if desired, unlimited drinks. As long as the “party package” is limited to attendees and both food and alcohol are served, an establishment can offer unlimited drinks for up to 3 hours in the event space. This time limit doesn’t apply to private functions, such as weddings and fund-raising functions, where “guests in attendance are served in a room or rooms designated and used exclusively for the private party, function or event” (235 ILCS 5/1-3.36)

Although the new law had its opponents, Illinois businesses are claiming that their concerns have not come to pass. Chicago Eater, reporting a year after state lawmakers made happy hour legal in Illinois, quote legislators and lobbying groups who say that the law has boosted sales. Proponents of the legislation also point to other benefits of the new law including an increase in Illinois liquor tax collections, which rose about 3.6 percent in one year, and a significant decrease in the number of complaints from confused restaurant owners who were being fined for violations.

The effect of the new happy hour law on drunken driving in Illinois remains something of a question, even years later. According to the Illinois Secretary of State, in 2017, alcohol-related crashes made up about 30% of the total fatal car accidents that year. But how many of these DUI-related fatalities are linked to happy hour law changes is unknown. Such a connection is hard to track because police likely wouldn’t consider happy hour activities an important item to note in their accident reports.

Jordan Matyas - 1818 Founder

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.