Caterers now licenced to serve liquor 

Service will be ramped up following ministry announcement

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Whistler's hospitality will flow more easily thanks to new B.C. legislation that allows caterers and restaurateurs to hold a liquor licence for events such as weddings, corporate gatherings and even picnics by the lake.

The announcement, from Minister Rich Coleman on Feb. 6, means a special caterer's licence can replace special occasion licences, which previously needed to be applied for by those hosting the event, such as the marrying couple or corporate hosts.

Grant Cousar of Whistler Cooks Catering was part of an initial push by Lower Mainland caterers for these changes. He said it was a more than two-year process.

"I'm very pleased. It's a really exciting thing for us. We started working on this; a group of caterers met and said the time was right to challenge the powers that be," he said.

Cousar said they lobbied politicians and spoke to stakeholders in the industry, including other caterers and venue owners, and created a list of policy options.

"It was very detailed and well spelled out to tell us what exactly we needed to do, what it would look like. Essentially it showed how we needed to operate like a restaurant or bar would or could... They studied all that detail and came up with a good working document (to submit to the minister)," he said. "I think we put forth realistic expectations."

How close to their wish list did they get? "Really close. We said 'look, we're not going to get anything if we don't make this real.' It has to be practical; it has to be a foundation. We looked at other liquor laws and thought it would all fit into the same stream of thinking," Cousar said.

In terms of Whistler Cooks Catering's business, the change will impact hundreds of events Cousar covers each year, allowing the company to be a one-stop eventing shop for clients.

"Weddings, corporate events, some 'reasonably sized' sporting events, and this will parlay into the big events," he said.

The next step, said Cousar, is to fill in an online application for the new licence, which is already available, something he plans to do as soon as he can find a moment. 

There are other impacts for the resort overall, he added.

"A very big part of this is that it allows current licensees to gain extensions on their licences. So in Whistler, where there are great outdoor spaces adjoining licences — restaurant patios — and they have a special event and want to gain another 200 seats for that, they can apply for an extension on an event-to-event basis," he said.

"I think that will be a big effect for a lot of local places."

André Saint-Jacques, founder of the Bearfoot Bistro, said overturning "archaic liquor laws" simplified the process and will allow catering to draw an income through alcohol service. The restaurant's biggest expansion has been in its catering division.

"It's great to see that our minister really took charge and did it in a timely manner once they were on board," he said.

Saint-Jacques recalled one client, visiting Whistler from Chicago, wanting a catered event at Lost Lake and being completely baffled by the idea that he would be required to get the liquor licence for the event.

"'What do you mean?' he asked me. It was a stupid law and it's a pretty great thing that it's changed," Saint-Jacques said.

Lorna Van Straaten of Whistler Community Services Society said the change reflects the findings of a survey into alcohol use in the resort.

"I was very pleased with the decision. It reflects what we found, what Whistlerites want, more common sense rules and regulations around alcohol services. It was very onerous for guests to throw an event anywhere," she said.

"In the survey, the community was very outspoken in terms of the problem areas and wanted them dealt with, but felt the rest of it (including catered events with alcohol) wasn't an issue."

Whistler's Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said: "The wedding industry was a glaring example of liquor laws that made no sense. We'd see the same thing with beer gardens and the GranFondo and other events. It was silly."

The change won't lead to greater public drunkenness, Cousar said.

"Our clients are not looking to sit in the forest and get drunk. They are paying quite a bit of money for service and it's by no means a cheap way, it can be more expensive than going to a restaurant. So in terms of irresponsibleness and 'there's going to be drunks everywhere' and this kind of stuff, I think it's just not reasonable."

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