Changes to PA Liquor Code: Extended Happy Hour, Beer-to-Go and Special Occasion Sales for Nonprofits

July 13, 2011

 As you may have seen in recent newspaper articles, Governor Corbett recently signed into law some changes to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. The most publicized of these changes is that "happy hours", the period of time when a licensed establishment can sell discounted alcoholic beverages, has been expanded. The previous law limited happy hour to two hours per day with a maximum of 14 hours per week. The change allows a bar or restaurant to have a happy hour up to four hours per day, but maintains the 14 hour per week maximum.

This change allows a bar or restaurant some flexibility and discretion in setting their happy hours to target busy times when the specials may attract more customers. Common criticisms of these changes are that the expanded freedom will permit more drinking during those hours and possibly lead to an increase in driving under the influence offenses or accidents.

These changes are likely another step by the state to modernize the current liquor code, which was originally passed in 1951. While it has been updated and amended numerous times since then, many who work with the liquor code on a regular basis complain that it has become outdated. Whatever the reason, the expanded happy hour allows those who hold a liquor license to exercise some choice over when and how long they want to offer specials for alcoholic beverages

While the expansion of the happy hour restraints have garnered most of the headlines for the recent updates or changes to the liquor law in PA, the same law made some other important changes to the liquor code. One of the more interesting changes was that hotel, restaurant or other public service licensees may sell beer-to-go in either open or closed containers, as long as the municipality where they are located does not have open container prohibitions. This would allow an establishment to sell a draft beer to go or other similar beverage which could be carried out into the street, assuming the municipality of the location does not have an ordinance which prohibits open containers. Finally, the new law expanded the ability for certain types of nonprofit organizations to receive a special occasion permit to allow them to raise funds for their organization.

These changes highlight the fact that the liquor law rules and guidelines can be somewhat complex. If you need help interpreting the law and want to insure you are operating within the law you should contact a lawyer with experience in liquor law matters.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Liquor Law issues.

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