It’s 5 o’clock somewhere: Legalizing happy hour would benefit small businesses in N.C. 

Published 11:49 am Friday, February 24, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Last week, lawmakers introduced legislation to legalize happy hour in North Carolina. Currently, it is illegal for a bar or restaurant to discount alcoholic beverages for hourly drink specials in our state. 

If passed, House Bill 94 would allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol at a lower price than usual during certain times of the day, and would also let businesses advertise alcoholic-beverage specials and brands outside of their establishments. The bill has bipartisan support in the North Carolina General Assembly, and if passed would go into effect in July of this year.

Under the proposed legislation, it would be up to local governments to decide if limited-time drink specials should be allowed. Business owners would need to purchase a permit in order to offer the drink specials. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Happy hour,” as it is commonly known in states that allow it, wasn’t always illegal in our state. 

A happy hour ban went into effect in the mid-’80s that requires businesses to sell alcohol at the same price all day, in an attempt to combat drunk driving. Advertising alcohol brands and prices outside of an establishment, via local media or signs, was also made illegal at that time. North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that prohibit happy hour.

HB 94, which is co-sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans, is a perfect example of finding common ground during a time when lawmakers can’t seem to agree on much of anything. In my view, relaxing the current law would have a positive economic impact on bars and restaurants across the state – including here in Polk County. 

At the same time, giving small businesses the ability to advertise specials on alcoholic drinks through local media would benefit not only the bars and restaurants, but local newspapers and advertising companies as well. 

“I’d love the opportunity to offer happy hour,” said Grant Phillips, executive chef at Harper Eatery and Pub in downtown Tryon. “It would help us fill seats during slow times of the day. Alcohol sales are a big source of revenue for us. I think allowing it would be a positive thing.”

Jason Noffsinger, the owner of Green River Tavern in Columbus, echoed that sentiment.

“I’m 100% for it,” Noffsinger said Wednesday.

All of the bar and restaurant owners across Polk County that I spoke to agreed that the loosening of restrictions on drink specials and advertising would help them generate business – a good thing for the local economy.

While the intentions of reducing drunk driving were good when the practice of happy hour was banned nearly 40 years ago, statistics show that the current law has done little to curb DUIs and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. 

According to, all four states that share a border with North Carolina report fewer DUI arrests than the Tar Heel State, and none of those four states have a total ban on happy hour. And according to the CDC, North Carolina experiences more alcohol-related traffic fatalities than South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, even with our state’s current restrictions. These facts are a terrible mark on our great state, but they demonstrate the lack of efficacy of the law as it stands. 

It is up to patrons to drink responsibly, and up to restaurant staff to serve responsibly, to avoid drunk driving. 

We will be watching the N.C. General Assembly in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps, of all things, this law is something folks from both sides of the aisle can agree on. 


Jeff Allison 

General Manager