The founder of the Donnelly Group was sitting at his desk when he received a text declaring that the B.C. government had opened the door to happy hours across the province.
“We’ve been expecting it for a long time but it took us by surprise when they just announced it on Friday [June 20],” Jeff Donnelly told the Georgia Straight by phone. “It’s something that I think will be really good for our industry.”
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has set a minimum price (before sales tax) of $0.25 per ounce for beer, cider, and coolers. Wine and sake can’t be sold for less than $0.60 per ounce, and liqueurs and spirits have a floor price of $2 per ounce.
The Donnelly Group’s 14 public houses have responded by offering draft sleeves of domestic, U.S., and craft beers for $3 every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The same price will be charged during this happy-hour period for highballs, Jameson Whiskey, and California and B.C. red and white wines. Draft pints of all imports and ciders will cost $5.
Donnelly explained that his company chose these hours to appeal to people in the financial-services sector, who often leave the office in the midafternoon after stock markets close, as well as to those whose workdays end about 5 p.m.
He added that lower prices have the potential to improve camaraderie in workplaces and enhance the culture. “How much easier is it going to be for a boss to take their staff out after work and buy everybody a round of drinks at $3 as opposed to having everyone out and buying everyone a round of drinks at $6 or $7.50?” Donnelly stated.
However, not everyone is impressed by the government’s floor price of $0.25 per ounce for draft beer. Adam Chatburn, president of the Campaign for a Real Ale Society of B.C.’s Vancouver branch, wrote on his group’s website that the minimum should be reduced for “responsible beer-loving” adults. And NDP liquor-policy critic Shane Simpson has claimed that this minimum could cause some lower-end beer prices to rise.
“If you’re drinking spirits or premium wines or premium beers, this price regime isn’t going to have any particular impact—your prices are probably going to go down,” Simpson told the Straight by phone. “But if you’re getting your pitcher of Budweiser or Molson, you’re going to pay more.”
Simpson claimed that B.C. Liberal MLA John Yap, parliamentary secretary for liquor-policy reform, did not exercise sufficient due diligence in advance of releasing a report on reforming alcohol policies.
“Nobody went back to look at the implications of how to actually implement these things and what the impacts might be in a whole range of areas,” the NDP MLA said.
Simpson added that this doesn’t bode well as the government advances to more complicated areas of liquor reform, such as allowing the sale of alcohol in grocery stores. Anton and Yap were unavailable to respond to Simpson’s statements.
For his part, Donnelly said that happy hours will reduce prices for many. “A keg of beer costs us $300,” he revealed. “You’ve got to charge $6 to put one of those local or even North American sleeves over the bar. For us, maybe it’s a bit of a loss leader to throw it out for a few hours in the afternoon. But maybe it gets people trying these products that they may not have tried—and I think that’s going to be pretty cool.”