Groupon is getting in trouble with state liquor laws. At least it is with Massachusetts’ Alcohol Beverage Control Board, citing violations of various liquor laws in the state, but mostly regarding discounted drinks. However, Groupon appears to be the only one of its kind under scrutiny, as competitors like KGB Deals continue to promote coupons applicable to food and drink specials.
In some others states, at least, Groupon appears to be somewhat in the clear. In New York, for instance, it appears to be [permissible] to discount drinks as much as 50% – but no more – while in California, anything is game as long as Groupon never uses the word ‘free’ around an offer where alcohol is involved, according to officials in those states I spoke with Friday. Of course there are 47 other states, approximately one-third of which are similarly strict as Massachusetts around the sale of alcohol. It’s a good bet Groupon will face more booze troubles.
One commenter at Forbes writes, since Groupon’s policy change in response to the purported violations, “How are we going to eat $50 worth of $2 tacos???” Naturally, this leads me to question a few things: If Groupon (and implicitly the bar or restaurant in question) is not allowed to offer coupon discounts, does this apply to discounted restaurant gift certificates from venues like Restaurant.com? Are coupons and gift certificates treated as one in the same legally, or does this differ from state to state? Does it matter if a third-party is offering the discount on a coupon or a gift certificate? I assume that, if you purchase a gift certificate from a restaurant (or even get the restaurant gift card from Costco or a grocery store), it is treated as cash at said restaurant, and is therefore applicable to both food and alcohol. I’d like to know if that’s not the case in some states.
I fail to see a distinction between Groupon’s and Restaurant.com’s wares: both are pre-paid deals. Whether I pay $10 for $25 worth of food and drink at an establishment with a Groupon or pay $10 (sometimes $2 or $3 if you have a promo code) for $25 worth of food or drink at an establishment with a Restaurant.com gift certificate would seem irrelevant. Then perhaps Restaurant.com’s “gift certificate” is a misnomer as it is a discount with restrictions like Groupon. And yet, it appears that you can continue to buy both food and drink with a regular restaurant gift card/certificate. If a restaurant compensates you for a bad experience with a gift certificate, is it in violation if you use the gift certificate for “free” drinks? Is it in violation if it compensates you 100% for said bad experience immediately and your order included alcohol? What about if you win a certain amount off your tab during a restaurant-hosted trivia contest and the like?
And finally, I’m disappointed with the Internet’s offering of state liquor laws compilations. There’s Wikipedia’s reference, but it seems incomplete on restrictions. I suppose I was expecting a ranking with up-to-date descriptions, because I’m not entirely clear what each state comprehensively allows or restricts in 2011. Perhaps a project to pursue later, unless y’all have a better reference.