Chef Geoff’s v. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority

Chef Geoff fights unconstitutional “Happy Hour” gag rule

Cases > Economic Liberty > Chef Geoff’s v. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing.

Award-winning restaurateur Chef Geoff Tracy owns three restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Only Virginia, however, restricts the way Chef Geoff advertises happy hour specials. While state law allows businesses to offer happy hour, it bans advertising happy hour prices, as well as the use of any terms other than “happy hour” or “drink specials.” Also, while restaurants may offer half-priced drinks, it’s illegal to call these specials “two-for-one.” In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Chef Geoff, PLF argues that Virginia’s happy hour advertising restrictions prevent restaurants from speaking freely and truthfully about their business—a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Chef Geoff Tracy is an entrepreneur, cookbook author, and owner of three restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area—including Chef Geoff’s Tysons Corner in Vienna, Virginia. Top in his class at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Geoff’s numerous awards include The Best Neighbor Award (for contributions to the community) and Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best Local Chef.” He also served on the executive board of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Chef Geoff advertises his restaurants’ happy hour specials on his website and on menus displayed outside of his restaurant. These ads show the specials and prices of beers, wine by the glass, and cocktails. They also advertise “Wine Down Wednesday,” a weekly offering in which patrons can enjoy a bottle of wine for half price. On “Margarita Thursday” Chef Geoff’s offers $5 margaritas. But because they include actual prices and creative phrasing rather than the generic “Happy Hour,” the ads violate Virginia’s advertising restrictions.

While the state allows happy hour specials, it bans advertising happy hour prices, as well as the use of any terms other than “happy hour” or “drink specials.” Also, while restaurants may offer half-priced drinks, it’s illegal to call these specials “two-for-one.”

The Constitution guarantees Chef Geoff’s right to talk freely and truthfully about his restaurants’ happy hours—including prices and creative terminology. But under state law, he faces fines and penalties for doing so. Representing Chef Geoff, PLF is suing Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control in federal court to vindicate his First Amendment rights, and put bureaucrats on notice that they can’t censor truthful, non-misleading information.

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What’s at stake?

  • The Constitution protects all speech, regardless of whether it’s commercial in nature. By prohibiting restaurants from communicating truthful, non-misleading speech about their business practices, Virginia’s law violates the First Amendment.
  • The First Amendment sets a very high bar for government when it muzzles free speech. Government can’t censor truthful, non-misleading information just because it thinks censorship might be in the public’s interest.

Case Timeline

Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss - Chef Geoff

May 29, 2018 Download

1st Amended Complaint - Chef Geoff

May 01, 2018 Download

Complaint - Chef Geoff

March 28, 2018 Download

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