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Vancouver restaurants under-served by new liquor by-law

A new liquor bylaw that will allow restaurants to stay open an hour later each night has owners up in…

By Mike Green , in Culture , on October 29, 2009 Tags: , ,

A new liquor bylaw that will allow restaurants to stay open an hour later each night has owners up in arms.

expensive drinks will have to be off-set with expensive food
Expensive drinks will have to be off-set with expensive food.

The bylaw, which is supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, brings Vancouver in line with the rest of the country’s major urban centres and goes a long way to addressing Vancouver’s image as a ‘no-fun city’, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But owners are worried that a subsection in the bylaw, which forces restaurants to obtain 50 per cent of their revenue over any eight hour period from food, is going to make business worse, not better.

“People will want to come in and treat us like bars during the Olympics when we can’t,” said David Duprey, who owns the Narrow on Main Street.  “It is the worst catch 22.”

“It is going to be embarrassing when I have to tell some German tourist that he can’t have another beer without ordering food.  He won’t know what I’m talking about.”

The city added a food regulation to the by-law in order to ensure that restaurants focus on food service and no longer have the incentive to moonlight as bars, particularly now that they will be able to stay open later.

Fines close businesses

City councilor Susan Anton said the food stipulation is a way to curb excessive drinking among patrons by holding out the threat of fines for restaurants that don’t balance drink service with food service.

“Taking away a business license is hard, ticketing is not very hard,” said Anton during council’s final deliberations. “I often think we should actually issue more tickets in this city as they are quite effective.”

These fines, which will be enforced by new liquor inspectors whose salaries will come from revenue created by the annual $3 per-seat tax in the new by-law, are what concern restaurants.

“The problem is when a task force gets the authority to come in and look at individual bills and make a judgement call, based on an individual table, to give you a very severe fine,” said James Iranzad of Corkscrew Entertainment.

BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act stipulates that a single contravention of a liquor license carries a $7,500 to $10,000 fine with a 10 to 15 day period of suspension.

“You slap a $10,000 fine on top of a somebody then you are essentially locking their doors,” said Iranzad.

“I just don’t think city council is fully grasping the weight of what they are trying to implement here.”

What the by-law encompasses

Wine bottle service will be complicated by the 50/50 food stipulation.
Wine bottle service will be complicated by the 50/50 food stipulation.

The liquor license bylaw will affect an estimated 1,061 Vancouver businesses.

City Councilor Kerry Jang said the regulation should focus on differentiating where people go to liberally drink and where people go to enjoy a drink with a meal.

“If you go into an establishment that looks like a restaurant, then you are going to behave like it is a restaurant,” said Jang.  “If you are going to a bar, or a sports bar or whatever…you may act like a goof.”

While upholding food service may curb patrons from treating restaurants as bars, the 50/50 stipulation will prevent restaurants from serving an expensive bottle of wine with a limited amount of food.

For restaurants and patrons, that’s a problem.

Erica Levesque, a frequent customer of Kitsilano restaurants, said she and her husband would have to stop ordering wine with dinner.

“We couldn’t afford to go for dinner if we had to match our wine order with food.  It would make it way too expensive”