Restaurants and bars, and every other type of hospitality business, are increasingly using online social media to promote their business. Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are the usual suspects today, but we can expect new entries going forward. Advertising spending in these channels is reported to have eclipsed the $100 million mark this year and is expected to increase. Yet, the dollars spent tell only part of the story. For most restaurants and bars, promoting their business using social media sites is essentially free. It’s this value proposition that promises to making such promotion ubiquitous over the next few years.

Restaurants and bars that serve alcohol must be aware that state liquor laws still apply in this brave new world of social media. A virtual violation is still a violation and can put your license in jeopardy (as well as your pocketbook)!

In Oregon, “advertising” is defined broadly as “publicizing the trade name of a license together with words or symbols referring to alcoholic beverages or publicizing the brand name of an alcoholic beverage.” The OLCC prohibits advertising that, among other things, (1) promotes happy hours involving the temporary reduction in alcoholic beverage prices, (2) encourage drinking because of its intoxicating effect or encourages drinking to excess, (3) involves instantly redeemable coupons for alcoholic beverages, or (4) that is appealing to minors.

The informal, conversational nature of services such as Twitter make violation of these rules easy, too easy. And, don’t think that the OLCC won’t get wise to the use of social media. They launched their own blog in July 2008. Check it out at http://olccblog.blogspot.com/. And, what's posted on these sites, just like the rest of the internet, is expected to have a long shelf life. Before you send off your next tweet, be careful that you’re not inviting your state alcohol regulatory agency to make a visit.

You should also be careful when referring to the competition, members of the public and possibly your state regulatory agency. Keep it friendly. Think before you tweet or post. Getting sued for defamation, causing emotional distress, or just plain bad PR can follow.