Regulations on Complimentary Drinks at Hotel Check-In

The Massachusettcomplimentary champagnes Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission expressed in its frequently asked questions section (#47) of its website that “a bar, restaurant or hotel cannot offer any free drinks.  However, a bar, restaurant, or hotel can include a drink as part of a meal package under certain circumstances.”

The “certain circumstances” section of this regulation was tested this past fall when a Boston Police detective assigned to the department’s Licensing Division issued a citation the Liberty Hotel in Boston for offering its guests (who were of age) a complimentary glass of champagne/sparkling wine upon check in to the luxury hotel.  The citation alleged that the hotel was violating the state’s long standing provision on free alcohol, the so-called Happy Hour law.  This particular licensing board matter received much publicity as the Liberty Hotel had been doing this practice at check-in since its opening in 2007.  Upon receiving the citation and until the Boston Licensing Board hearing, the hotel substituted a non-alcoholic sparkling drink at check-in.

Universal Hub reported on the hotel’s argument that the practice was within state liquor regulations because the drinks were not technically free because the hotel kept accounts of the drinks and paid state liquor-sales tax on each one.

He (the hotel’s lawyer) said this contrasted to happy hours in which bars and restaurants competed to see how many free drinks they could load patrons up with. And he said that his review of decisions by the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission showed not a single one involving a situation in which a hotel dole out a single drink to a guest on check in, and that decisions involving free drinks all involved happy hours.”

The Boston Licensing Board sided with the hotel and allowed the sparkling wine/champagne practice at check-in to continue.  Shortly after the Liberty Hotel was cited for the check-in drinks, the Boston Police gave a similar citation to the recently opened Revere Hotel in the Theater District for giving out sparkling wine at check-in.  Universal Hub reported the Boston License Board issued a warning to the hotel.

The difference? The Liberty Hotel kept a detailed record of all the flutes of wine it handed out, then billed it to the hotel manager’s account, while the Revere Hotel simply bought bottles of wine and then stuck them in silver ice buckets at the front counter and kept no records of who got served or what each drink cost.

The Revere Hotel has since set up a detailed accounting system for the “free” drinks and now offers this amenity at check in to all its guests over the age of 21.

Speak Your Mind