Are happy hours & bottomless drinks illegal in NC? What to know about state alcohol laws

For years, happy hours have been a common concept at bars, restaurants, and pubs across the country dedicated to drink specials and discounts for guests during a certain period of a day.

But you won’t find any in North Carolina.

North Carolina is among a handful of states, along with Massachusetts, Alaska, Vermont, Utah and Rhode Island, that have banned traditional happy hours and placed restrictions on alcohol sales, The Hill previously reported.

According to North Carolina state law, businesses are only able to offer Happy Hour food specials in North Carolina. For drink specials, the discount must last the whole day and be offered to all customers. For example, a “ladies night” for just women isn’t allowed either.

“Free or reduced drinks under this provision shall be offered to all customers, not just a segment of the population,” the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission of North Carolina says.

However, businesses can offer a package deal with alcoholic beverages that includes a meal or entertainment during specific holidays: New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

But there are restrictions on the amount of drinks bartenders can legally sell to customers.

Are bottomless drinks legal in North Carolina?

Under state law, businesses are not allowed to sell more than one drink to a customer for a single price, set a single price based upon the required purchase of more than one drink or deliver more than one drink at one time to someone.

“Bottomless’ drink offers (paying one price for multiple drinks) would be in violation of this rule,” Erin Bean, the NC Department of Public Safety alcohol law enforcement public information officer, said.

But this rule does not apply to selling pitchers of alcoholic drinks to two or more people or someone buying a round of drinks for multiple people. It also doesn’t apply to those serving a single carafe or bottle of wine to someone.

Here are other things to know about state laws pertaining to happy hours in North Carolina:

What is considered a single drink? Is a shot and a beer considered one drink?

ABC Rule 2S.232 (c) defines a single drink as one that contains the amount of alcohol usually served to a single patron as a single serving by the permittee. According to the ABC state commission, a shot and a beer may be sold to one person.

Can a business sell a bucket of beer to one person? What about a pitcher of margaritas?

The ABC state commission says buckets and pitchers of beer or any drink can only be sold to two or more people.

Can a business advertise a “2 for 1” or “buy 1 get 1 free” deal?

No. State law prohibits drink promotions and similar statements that indicate that a patron must buy more than one drink.

Can a business promote specials where prizes are offered based on buying certain alcoholic beverages?

No. According to state law, “except as otherwise provided in these Rules, no industry member of retailer shall promote an alcoholic beverage product by giving prizes, premiums or merchandise to individuals for which any purchase of alcoholic beverages is required based on the return of empty containers unless all containers of like products are accepted and considered on an equal basis with the product sold by the permittee.”

But a new proposed bill could change some of the state’s alcohol laws. If passed, Senate Bill 527 would loosen restrictions on several rules regarding alcohol sales, including happy hour drink specials. The bill was passed by the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee on Tuesday, but it must go before two more committees before a full chamber vote, WRAL reported.

The News & Observer’s Kimberly Cataudella contributed to this report.