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The seating situation

Bars and restaurants lost a lot to gain a little in new liquor license regulations – and many of them won’t even collect

While seating capacity may be an issue for bar and restaurant owners, the municipality, and the provincial Liquor Control and Licensing Board (LCLB), there were plenty of empty seats in council chambers on May 16 for an open house on that very subject.

Six Whistler drinking establishments are applying to have either their interior seating capacities increased to match their building’s occupancy or for patio seating capacities that are independent from their interior capacities.

As part of the new liquor licensing regulations that the province adopted two years ago, the municipality is in a position to recommend that the LCLB accept or reject the applications based – among other things – on public input. Aside from the regular complaints received during the high season, there wasn’t any public input.

With the exception of this reporter, a grand total of four stakeholders showed up to the open house: Lee Murphy, the new liquor license inspector for the region; Mike Kirkegaard, a Planning Department representative for the municipality; Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider of the Whistler RCMP detachment; and Dick Gibbons, the owner and operator of The Longhorn Saloon and Buffalo Bill’s.

While a lot of the discussion was off-topic and off-the-record, the general feeling was that the Liquor License Advisory Committee would support the applications when they come before council on June 4, but applicants had better be ready to answer some tough questions.

There are some concerns that the additional capacity will add to the noise and general ruckus in the village at closing time. There are also concerns that the village already has too many licensed seats.

According to Gibbons, those concerns, while valid, have little to do with the applications to increase capacities – nobody is increasing anything except on paper.

"I don’t think people understand what the process was (leading up to the province adopting the Liquor Policy Review in May 1999), but it was give and take on everyone’s behalf," says Gibbons. "The provincial government got universal enforcement and codified penalties. The municipality has more power than ever before over licensees. We were given a few powers, mainly the right to apply for capacity increases."

Liquor establishments routinely exceed the capacities outlined in their liquor licenses in order to capitalize on those times when business is good – "For years we’ve been allowing over-capacity on nights that are busy," Gibbons said. "Because of over-licensing in this town and this province, the government has put us in a position where we rely on the fact that we are that busy a couple of days a week."

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