Each week I’m tasked with finding something about Boston (or in this case, the state) that we as a community should aspire to make better.. While I like to think myself a frugal drinker, the truth of it is, I’m not. I go for the top shelf stuff, whether my wallet wants me to or not. So it was a no brainer to argue for the resurgence of Happy Hours in Massachusetts. And I approached this assuming I’d wind up taking a hard stance in favor of lifting the near 3-decades old statewide ban. Now I’m not so sure it should be lifted.
In early September of 1983, a 20-year-old woman was killed after being dragged beneath a motor vehicle in the parking lot of a restaurant in suburban Boston. The driver, a friend of the victim, had drank at least 7 beers prior to the accident during a promotional activity inside the restaurant. It was that tragic event that triggered the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission’s (ABCC) investigation into Happy Hour practices that ultimately resulted in Governor Michael Dukakis signing into law the country’s first statewide ban in 1984.
Since, 18 other states have made Happy Hour illegal. Most recently, Utah, a state notorious for its rigid rules on booze took away that smiling 25th hour. Citizens (read: bar-goers) want Happy Hours for obvious reasons. Who doesn’t love cheap drinks, especially after a long day’s work? You know the line. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So let Jack play.
But should the mere fact that customers can save some money merit the legalization of a practice conducive to over-consumption? It’s not like bars and restaurants can’t save you a few bucks in other ways. There is “no ban on offering a ‘package’ deal on food and alcohol,” wrote Jon Carlisle, communications director at the Office of State Treasury in an email to BostInno. “As long as the price of the package does not fall below the cost of the drink associated with the deal.”
Hey, on Tuesday nights at The Draft in Allston, you can get a beer, burger and fries for six bucks.
“If you make it too affordable, what’s the tipping point where it sort of goes into reducing the price of a drink or the price of a burger?” asked Carlisle.
It’s not really as though business is bruised by the lack of deals. The ban is nearly 30 years old. If a business has survived three decades since then, well, they’ve got to be doing alright without them. For younger businesses, they don’t know the difference and further might not be prepared for the extra responsibility that could come with re-implementation.
Says Nicole Murati Ferrer, chair of the state-controlled Boston Licensing Board, “Out of pure speculation, the law requires these businesses to ensure that they’re not serving intoxicated patrons. I think this [lifting the happy hour ban] would just add an extra layer for them to be vigilant.”
She reiterated that she was not speaking for businesses, but only speculatively.
Casinos seem to be the hare, the lure that the state is chasing, but, like a pack of racing greyhounds, it never can catch it. The gambling halls are a big reason behind the idea of bringing Happy Hours back. If casinos can give out booze to customers (who are busy pouring more than enough money to the house), then restaurants and bars should be able to utilize Happy Hours as a means of keeping up.
And that’s essentially what Happy Hour is. It’s competition. Who can offer the best deals? But it’s not like that competition is gone without Happy Hour. As a consumer, we obviously want to spend less for a night on the town. But we’re a species that wants a whole lot.