By Bob Barnett
Municipal governments will have more input into liquor licensing, entertainment will be allowed in restaurants and restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol without food to 10 per cent of their patrons if the recommendations of consultant Jo Surich are accepted by the province.
Surich’s report was presented to the provincial government on Feb. 1, 10 days after a consensus agreement was reached among pub, cabaret, restaurant and other liquor licensees, according to Geoffrey Howes, vice president of government affairs for the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association.
"We got these changes, not to the degree we’d requested but that’s part of negotiations," Howes said.
"But that we could come to a consensus agreement, that in itself is huge.
"Jo Surich did an awesome job."
Howes suggested the changes to the liquor laws could be in place by the summer.
"Everyone agreed, so there should be no impediment to the changes," Howes said.
Surich’s report has been in government hands nearly three weeks but the province has yet to make a formal announcement about the report. It still requires cabinet approval, but Howes said many of the changes are simply regulations, which don’t require amending legislation and therefore could be made relatively quickly. There will be some new legislation required to institute all the changes.
Some of the biggest changes include eliminating restrictions on entertainment in restaurants, allowing restaurants to serve alcohol without food and the streamlining, over three years, of B.C.’s cumbersome licensing system.
Eliminating restrictions on entertainment primarily means restaurants won’t have to seek special permits to install televisions.
Restaurants will also be able to designate up to 10 per cent of their seats (or a maximum 20 seats) for alcohol service without food. Those designated seats can be moved — for example, out on to a patio during the summer — as a restaurant sees fit.
For all other seats in a restaurant, there must be a minimum of $5 per person spent on food when alcohol is served. This change does away with the province’s tortured definition of "a meal." At present, everyone drinking alcohol in a restaurant is required to order a meal, and provincial regulators have gone into detail describing what does and what doesn’t constitute a meal.
"It allows flexibility," Howes said. "Someone can come by and have a drink but there’s protection against restaurants becoming bars."
One of the other areas of significant change will be with municipal input into liquor licences. Municipalities will have the authority to place a moratorium on licensing, according to Howes, something which they can’t do now. Municipalities will also have input into licence renewals and will have a greater say in where restaurants may be located.
The licensing system will also be changed, according to Howes. The 11 different licences, which currently range from A to K, will be replaced with a two-licence system. Licensed establishments will have either a Food Primary or a Liquor Primary licence.
"It’s 100 per cent simpler," Howes said.
All existing licences will be folded into the Primary licence system over three years.
Howes said the agreement has not been publicly circulated but the province is expected to announce it and its implications soon.