Happy hour, cocktails to-go bill makes a splash

Abbi Raben, representing the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association, shows a sample of a to-go contianer that could be used by retailers duirng ahering on Tuesday. Photo by Indiana Capital Chronicle.
Leslie Bonillia Muniz
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s 5 o’clock somewhere — and in Indiana, bars and restaurants could soon offer customers “happy hour” drink deals under legislation that also authorizes alcohol carry-out orders.

Abbi Raben, representing the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association, said House Bill 1086 would allow retailers to boost traffic during slow hours “while also ensuring that it’s done in a responsible manner.”

Retailers currently are limited to all-day alcoholic beverage specials, which she noted isn’t always “the most economical choice” for businesses.

The bill would allow retailers to reduce drink prices for up to four hours a day, but less than 15 hours in a week. Happy hours wouldn’t be allowed between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Retailers also would be banned from serving bottomless drinks and from allowing games or contests determined by how much alcohol a customer consumes.

Blake Fogelsong of Clancy’s Hospitality said many of the company’s six restaurants planned to offer happy hours from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. if the bill became law.

 Lisa Hutcheson, of Mental Health America of Indiana, testifies against legislation allowing happy hours and alcohol carry-out in committee on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle) 

But not everyone was happy.

Lisa Hutcheson of Mental Health America of Indiana said drink specials are correlated with heavier alcohol consumption and could negatively impact people struggling with substance use disorder.

She also suggested the change could increase alcohol-related crimes.

Hutcheson told the committee that if the bill proceeds, lawmakers “should at least” consider new restrictions: banning happy hour advertising on social media, banning advertising outside of the retailers and requiring customers purchasing discounted alcohol to also buy food.

The bill would also legalize carry-out alcohol.

Retailers would have to put the beverages in containers of less than four quarts that bartenders and restaurant staff can seal. The bags would have to show when they’ve been tampered with and be labeled as containing alcohol.

But if retailers violate those requirements, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) could revoke their carry-out privileges.

“We look forward to being able to offer cocktails to-go to our patrons at these restaurants and do it in a safe matter,” Fogelsong said.

“We see this as a modern trend of how consumers want their products ready to go, including cocktails,” he added.

But Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the bill’s language could allow retailers to pour half-drunk cocktails in to-go containers.

“I think we’ve got to be careful,” he said. An ATC representative confirmed the bill didn’t “expressly prohibit that possibility.”

“I don’t want to waste my alcohol!” quipped Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville.

The bill lastly requires retailers to purchase liquor liability insurance or an endorsement with coverage of at least $500,000 to obtain or renew a retailer’s permit.

The committee voted to move the bill 12-1, with Lehman voting against.

The General Assembly banned “happy hours” in the early 1980s.

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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