how embarrassing and does the city not want consumers to have the choice to dine and wine as they choose to? one step backwards
New city liquor bylaw to limit sale of fine wines in Vancouver restaurants
VANCOUVER - Imagine this: Out for a meal in a Vancouver restaurant, you spend $30 to $40 on entrees. But when you order a $45 bottle of B.C. wine, your waiter says: “Sorry, this is Vancouver; you’ll have to buy something cheaper.”
That’s exactly what could happen after Jan. 1, when the city’s new liquor licensing bylaw comes into effect.
An obscure subsection of the bylaw casts a regulatory net — intended to nab restaurants that are all bar and no food — that snares just about every other restaurant with a wine list aspiring to offer more than bulk wines. Under the bylaw, approved by city council Oct. 8 and coming into effect Jan. 1, the food portion of all restaurant receipts must account for at least 50 per cent of all revenues over any eight-hour period.
The city is imposing an annual $3-a-seat tax on all city restaurants, raising money to hire food police who will make sure restaurants comply.
That’s the death knell for upper-end wine sales at all but the more costly restaurants in town, says Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association.
“We are going into the Olympics; we want to showcase British Columbia; we want to showcase B.C. wines and B.C. wines are not known for being inexpensive so that could kill it. The waiter could end up saying ‘Sorry, I can’t sell you that $45 bottle of wine.’”
Wine lawyer Mark Hicken said in an interview the effect on fine wine sales could be dramatic. “If the manager for the night notices that the restaurant is running 50/50, then theoretically he or she should prevent customers from ordering expensive wine because that would throw the restaurant off for the 8-hour period,” he said in his blog Winelaw.ca. “As the Olympics approaches, this is a huge backward step for the modernization of wine laws in Vancouver.”
The new law is aimed at restaurants that operate as bars, contrary to the licence bylaw, which separates food establishments from bars. The city conducted an undercover operation to see how bad the problem was and found in once instance, a police officer was served six drinks and no food at a licensed restaurant.
“What the city is interested in is: a restaurant is in the business of selling food and liquor but a handful of restaurants have apparently been acting more like bars than restaurants. That’s what everyone wants to avoid here,” Tostenson said in an interview.
Tostenson is to meet with city officials soon over the issue. He believes the city will rewrite the bylaw. “It’s the unintended consequence of the city trying to do the right thing,” he said. “But it needs to be rejigged.”
The issue flared up when James Iranzad, of Corkscrew Entertainment, started organizing restaurateurs to fight the bylaw. In an e-mail, Iranzad said it’s impossible for restaurants to meet the new bylaw. Corkscrew operates three restaurants in the city: Hell’s Kitchen, Abigail’s Party and the Flying Tiger.
Iranzad declined to be interviewed, but a glance at the company’s menus shows entrees typically range from $12 to $21. Most wines are in the $30 to $60 range. But a bottle of B.C. red Nota Bene, at $78, would require a couple to also eat two orders of B.C. halibut at $21 each, plus one order of Moroccan chicken at $21 and three desserts to be within the bylaw.