Following an outcry from the restaurant industry, Vancouver city council is discarding a requirement for licensed establishments to serve as much food as alcohol.
The 50-50 rule was part of a new liquor bylaw that council was scheduled to approve on November 3. The measure was withdrawn from the agenda a day before.
“Because of the concerns we’ve heard, staff has gone back and looked at another way of dealing with this, and we’ll be changing the wording,” Coun. Heather Deal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It will take out the 50-50 [rule], and instead put in some wording about consistent restaurant behaviour.”
Council may adopt the revised liquor bylaw as early as Tuesday (November 17), according to Deal.
The Vision Vancouver councillor said that it will be up to city bylaw inspectors to determine whether or not a restaurant is violating its food-primary licence by operating as a bar. “It’s not something you can put into black and white on a printed page, but when we say ”˜consistent with restaurant operations’, that’s something that our well-trained bylaw officers will be able to spot,” she added.
On October 8, council adopted staff recommendations on a new liquor bylaw, which sets uniform, extended service hours for the city’s 1,061 licensed restaurants. The move was welcomed by the industry, and it was only later that restaurateurs realized that the equal-food-to-alcohol ratio was included in the package.
“What we’re really concerned with here is not whether or not someone is serving an expensive bottle of wine,” Deal explained. “What we’re worried about here are places that are causing other problems, such as overcrowding or noise, and that 50-50 rule was a tool we could use to deal with those kinds of places. We certainly don’t want to have a negative impact on the industry. This whole thing was brought forward to loosen up the bylaw and allow people to serve up a little bit longer.”
The president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association noted that members of the industry want to see the final wording of the bylaw, but that the removal of the 50-50 rule is good news.
“If, in fact, they approve it, I would describe it as smart thinking on their part,” BCRFA’s Ian Tostenson told the Straight by phone. “It’s contemporary thinking, because it reflects what the public is saying. When you walk into a restaurant, does it feel as a restaurant? Is there a kitchen open? Is there food available? I think the average person can distinguish between a nightclub and a restaurant.”
Gerald Thomas, a senior policy analyst at the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., generally favours an equal food-to-liquor ratio applied in eight-hour periods as a way to prevent restaurants from allowing customers to abuse alcohol. However, Thomas also acknowledges that the blanket application of this rule may unnecessarily punish some establishments.
“What they’re really after are the restaurants—and there’s a number of them in the downtown core—that essentially operate as bars after some time in the night: they stop selling so much food and they start selling a lot more alcohol, and they have these lounges that the province allows in there, so it’s kind of set up for it,” Thomas told the Straight by phone. “So what they’re trying to do is distinguish between the folks that are doing that which they don’t want and the folks that are selling very expensive wine with dinner, because it’s true that many people enjoy drinking alcohol with their food.”
Deal confirmed a previous statement by Coun. Raymond Louie that council isn’t going to allow some restaurants to maintain their existing liquor-service hours, which are longer than the hours set in the bylaw.
Tostenson said the restaurant industry has recommended a longer transition period for these restaurants.
“We’re not going to be changing that one,” Deal said. “If you look at the numbers of the ones which are open late, it’s a very small number. So with this bylaw change, we’ve made a huge increase in the availability of a drink with your meal late at night.”
The measure provides for closing times of 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.