Vancouver Booze Review a Sobering Issue

February 26, 2009

By Ed Dugas

For over 5 years now, Vancouver policy planners have been trying to
implement a liquor service policy that will both satisfy the majority
of shareholders, and represent an appropriate solution for the city.
The draft must appease public safety officials, protect applicable
businesses, and reasonably address all citizen concerns. A seemingly
impossible task, for sure.

Bet it makes them wanna have a drink.

The process has taken a long time, and it isn’t expected to be resolved
until November, 2009, when the city finishes crunching the polling data
obtained by Angus Reid Strategies, listening to the wishes of the
people, and following provincial procedure.

It’s difficult to find a business or citizen who is not in some way affected by this process.
Here are the players involved, and what’s happened so far:

The businesses involved with this issue are liquor primaries,
(establishments where profits come mostly from liquor sales) food
primaries, (establishments which primarily sell food and, to a lesser
extent, alcohol) and related shareholders. The city is partitioned
into seven designated “sub-areas,” the location of which determines how
late the business can serve alcohol. Visit this link
on the city’s website for more details on how the hours of operation
and zoning breaks down (and please excuse their usage of words, “draft”
and “mixed” as attempts at ironic booze humour).

There has been strong support from industry representatives for
eliminating the sub-areas, and adopting 1:00 am for all restaurants
across the board. A uniform closing time would discourage late-night
driving to later-operating establishments, limit the strain on law
enforcement, and make the streets safer for the public. It also
eliminates the anomaly that allows one establishment to stay open until
1:00am, while a place across the street would conceivably have to close
its doors at midnight.

“We think the sub-areas are complete lunacy, and we support the 1:00 am proposal,” says restaurant advocate Randy Olafson.

“I support the 1:00am proposal for restaurants,” says Leigh Angman, managing partner of Relish Restaurant and Lounge. “I just want this thing to finally push through.”

Restaurants that acquired liquor licenses before December, 2002 and
have later closing times than the proposal will be grandfathered, thus
not affected by any policy changes. This means that restaurants which
before shut down at midnight would benefit from an extended hour of
service and ones that already stay open later can continue to do so.

To throw an additional wrench into these proceedings, the city will
also be creating a new business category, called Dining Lounge Class
2. This new license will require a $4.25 per seat fee for restaurants
which operate after midnight and have at least 66 seats.

“The generated revenue will be spent on law enforcement and policy regulation,” says city planner Lilly Ford.

The new license has many restaurateurs worried about getting pinched by
the city for more money. To combat this, some support applying the
taxes on a more fixed schedule. For example, restaurants with 1-49
seats will pay a fixed tax; 50-149 will pay a fixed tax, and so on.

Mr. Olafson explains it best:

“For establishments that have 150-200 seats they may only realise
30-50% of the potential room occupant load from Midnight until 1:00am.
That would be about 45 – 100 seats. A popular operator down the street
that has 80 seats may possibly be able to fill 80% or 64 seats.

Under the proposed scheme the first operator would have to pay 200 x
4.25 or 850.00 per year and the second operator would pay 340.00 per
year but have a significantly higher return for that extended hour.
Thus creating some inequity in the per seat fee bases.”

Additionally, there is concern that the line between what is considered
a bar and what is a restaurant is unclear, which means that some could
potentially try to circumvent the regulations.

Wineos and El Furniture Warehouse
owner Jeff More says that some restaurants operate like bars, and that
he shoulders an unfair burden when intoxicated people “get thrown back
out on the street,” and enter his establishment.

“The line between restaurant and bar are so blurred that the public is
confused,” he states. “It’s a slippery slope and there are going to be
easy ways to get around the rules.”

More, whose establishments are located on Granville St., also brings up
the issue of law and policy enforcement, especially in this
highly-patrolled area.

“Both of my food primaries are under scrutiny,” he says. “We operate
as well as we can, and throw people out all the time. We believe
everyone needs to be held to the same standard as us.”

Const. Peter Ryan, the VPD’s liquor coordinator, concurs: “We have a
push to enforce any and all establishments from operating outside of
their licenses. We want to bring control so food primaries operate
like restaurants and not bars.”

He also believes that sound policy will save the VPD from expending a
disproportionate amount of resources on maintaining the peace amongst
partygoers.

Speaking of the citizens, Angus Reid’s data reports that most people
support the later closing times, but want to limit noise on weekdays
and in more residential areas. Their surveys suggest that people
understand there will be more noise on weekends, and in downtown and
commercial areas. Two-thirds of the 400 people they polled live within
one block of a licensed restaurant.

For more information about this issue, please visit www.vancouver.ca and click on the “licenses” search on the right of the page.

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