EDITORIAL: It's time to bring back happy hour

Oct. 3—"Maybe this is just me being an old fuddy-duddy, but I think most places do just fine based on the current rules as they are."

— Gov. Charlie Baker, on his opposition to the return of happy hour and the possibility he might veto the measure.

Sorry, Charlie, but it's not just that you are a "fuddy-duddy," you are also out of touch with the current culture of drinking among young people.

They are way more responsible than kids were in 1984, when happy hour was banned in Massachusetts following a spate of deadly drunk-driving accidents here and across the country. Led by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, the minimum drinking age rose from 18 to 21 and happy hours were banned in a handful of states. Currently, just eight states make happy hour illegal. (Strangely, loopholes in some states like Indiana allow for "happy days," when certain drinks are discounted for a whole day.)

It's pretty remarkable, really, that the happy hour ban still stands in Massachusetts, as it has been repealed or curtailed in other states. Currently, roll-backs of the ban are being debated in Rhode Island and North Carolina, as well as Massachusetts.

It's time to repeal the ban here, as well.

One of the main reasons Baker should not veto the measure to reverse the ban is pretty simple: We taught our kids well.

Any parent who has eavesdropped on conversations among their 20-somethings planning a night out have invariably heard the discussion about who's going to stay sober so they can drive, how they are all getting home safely, and who has an Uber or Lyft account.

MADD put the fear of God into baby boomers, and it worked. Drunk driving fatalities across the nation are down almost 50% over the last few decades, according to responsibility.org, a responsible drinking website.

Baker is quoted in a story by the State House News Service as telling GBH's "Boston Public Radio" that he doesn't want a return to "the old days" when people "got overserved a lot."

"I believe people will continue to get overserved," he added during the interview. "There are consequences associated with that, and the consequences in many cases I don't think justify or are worth the benefit that's associated with, you know, 25-cent drinks."

Another factor Baker doesn't take into consideration is that bars and restaurants have become much better at limiting drinking by people who may appear too intoxicated.

The bartenders have no qualms about cutting off someone who's had too much.

Baker told GBH that he would "most likely" veto the reversal of the ban on happy hours, but it's still being negotiated by House and Senate leaders so he should really wait and see what comes out of those negotiations before he makes up his mind.

It's possible the measure could be approved with the caveat that anyone partaking in happy hour must also have a meal. The days of "25-cent drinks" are over. Any responsible restaurant would self-police. Furthermore, approval of happy hours would be done on a city-by-city and town-by-town basis. If Haverhill officials decide they don't want it, they can determine that for themselves. Likewise with Gloucester or Salem or Newburyport.

Finally, we really need to call out Stephen Clark, the CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, who said in a letter to State House News Service that bringing happy hour back "will result in skyrocketing costs for all."

He didn't mention the flip side: That it could lead to additional profits "for all," especially bars and restaurants hard hit by the economic fallout of the COVID pandemic.

"For the last four decades, the present public policy in Massachusetts has worked," Clark said. "There has not been outcry from industry to change these laws. Who is asking for this change and for what reason? Just because a consumer expresses a desire to have something doesn't mean it makes sense for the impacted business or the Commonwealth as a whole."

Whatever happened to the old adage "the customer is always right?" It seems Clark may have missed that class in restaurant school. In any event, polls show an overwhelming support for the return of happy hour in Massachusetts.

It's time.