Restaurants

Connecticut Lawmakers Try to Legalize Self-Service Beer Bars

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Self-service beer bars have grown in popularity in recent years as customers enjoy the experience of being able to pour their own brew from a tap. Numerous states still prohibit this type of self-service , however. According to WTNH.com, Connecticut lawmakers may finally legalize self-service for wine and beer in the Nutmeg State:

Imagine getting your beer or glass of wine like you would a fountain soda.  It may soon be a reality in Connecticut

The bill that would allow self-service alcohol machines at bars just got the thumbs up from the House of Representatives. 

You would get a card from the bartender and swipe it at the machine…

Read more here.


New Mexico: Restaurants Are Discounting Drinks TOO MUCH

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In a feature piece on Applebee’s “Dollarita” (the chain restaurant’s famed $1 margarita), PUNCH notes that New Mexico actually forbids the restaurant from selling these cocktails for $1:

Consisting of an ounce and a quarter of tequila and nearly four ounces of Applebee’s house Margarita mix (the company uses an undisclosed proprietary formula), there’s nothing terribly unusual about the Dollarita—other than its price tag…

The patchwork of liquor laws in the U.S. does throw a bit of a wrench into the Applebee’s plan for Dollarita domination, though not as much as you might think. “It’s a big country with lots of laws, and we want to make sure we’re compliant,” says Kirk. “We work with many of the state liquor authorities to make sure this is the right thing to do.” In New York, for example, customers are limited to three drinks, and in New Mexico, Applebee’s cannot sell $1 drinks (though it can sell $2 ones). Despite this, Kirk says, “nearly 100 percent” of the locations do offer Dollaritas…

Read the whole piece here.

This is likely the result of a provision in the state code that forbids “the sale or delivery of alcoholic beverages by the drink for less than half the usual, customary, or established price for a drink of that type on the licensed premises.” The result? Sadness for New Mexicans.


Virginia Happy Hour (Finally) On the Brink of Being Freed

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We’ve extensively covered the lawsuit by the Pacific Legal Foundation that challenges Virginia’s law forbidding the advertising of happy hour specials by restaurants. While the case works its way through the courts, however, it appears that the Virginia legislature is on the brink of repealing the happy hour restrictions itself:

For the first time, Virginia pubs and restaurants may soon be able to plug their Margarita Mondays, Wine-down Wednesdays, and $5 Fiesta Fridays.

The Virginia state legislature gave initial approval Wednesday to House and Senate bills diluting the state’s tight laws on advertising happy-hour prices and catchy slogans, stepping up after a legal challenge filed by a popular local restaurateur.

Chef Geoff Tracy, who operates eateries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit last year against the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board wash away the old-fashioned advertising restrictions on First Amendment grounds…

The legislation allows liquor licensees to “advertise on or off the licensed premises and to advertise the prices of featured alcoholic beverages,” according to the legislative analysis, as well as “creative advertising marketing techniques, provided that such techniques do not induce overconsumption or induce consumption by minors.”

The identical bills breezed through their initial votes, with a 90-4 vote in the House and 40-0 in the Senate. The measures must still be read and voted on in the other chambers before going to Gov. Ralph Northam…

Read the rest here.

Virginia ABC Using Taxpayer Dollars to Defend Speech Censorship

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We have previously weighed in on the Pacific Legal Foundation’s legal challenge to Virginia’s happy hour advertising ban, which forbids restaurants in the commonwealth from publicly advertising drink specials and discounts. This week, PLF’s Anastasia Boden updated what’s been going with the lawsuit in the Washington Post, including describing how the state is using taxpayer dollars to be as intransigent as possible in defending its censorship:

It’s been almost a year since Geoff Tracy and his restaurant, Chef Geoff’s, filed a First Amendment lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down Virginia’s happy-hour advertising laws. In the Old Dominion, it’s legal for businesses to offer happy hour. It’s just illegal for them to talk about it. Those that dare to advertise the happy-hour price of a beer or use creative terms such as “Sunday Funday” to pitch the demon rum face big fines or a suspended permit from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Virginia may be for lovers, but it’s not for lovers of free speech.

After many months of litigation, Tracy is eager to present his arguments to the court. Given clear Supreme Court cases declaring it unconstitutional to restrict people from communicating truthful information about their legal business practices, one might expect ABC and the attorney general’s office, which represents it, to have abandoned the policy of censorship. Instead, the two are doubling down on their efforts to defend Virginia’s paternalistic law, recently adding some of the state’s most senior government lawyers to the case and escalating fights in discovery — which needlessly intimidate plaintiffs and drive up everyone’s expenses. In what ought to be a simple case with nary a disputed fact, the government demanded several depositions of Chef Geoff’s employees, most of whom have nothing to do with the First Amendment case. They also sought thousands of pages in financial reports detailing the sale of every item sold by the hour — every hour going back six years — from nine restaurants (six of which aren’t even in Virginia). So far, Chef Geoff’s has produced more than 68,000 pages of sales information. ABC wants more.

Depositions and document requests are expensive and entail opportunity costs. Don’t high-level officials at the attorney general’s office have serious crimes to prosecute?…

Read Anastasia’s full piece here.

BYOB Restaurants in New Jersey Can Now Advertise

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New Jersey is notorious for its expensive liquor licenses—a result of its quota system that limits the number of licenses available—which unsurprisingly has led many restaurants in the state to allow “BYOB” booze. While BYOB establishments are popular among New Jerseyans, state law forbids restaurants from advertising that they are BYOB. But now a federal judge has struck down this restriction, according to the New Jersey Law Journal:

A federal judge has ruled that New Jersey’s law barring restaurants from advertising “bring your own beer” policies is unconstitutional.

The state ban on advertising policies that allow patrons to bring their own beer and wine to restaurants, known as BYOB, “places a content-based restriction on speech that fails strict scrutiny because it is not supported by a compelling government interest nor is it the least restrictive means of achieving the government’s stated purpose,” U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez of the District of New Jersey ruled in GJJM Enterprises v. City of Atlantic City.

The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control “presented no compelling government interest for banning BYOB advertising, while permitting liquor stores and restaurants with liquor licenses to advertise on-site alcohol sales,” Rodriguez said…

Read more here.


New Jersey's Costly Liquor Licenses Continue to Hurt Restaurants

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New Jersey has long been known for its liquor license quota system, which as we’ve discussed in the past, artificially drives up the price of licenses in the state. Northjersey.com reports on how this is hurting the state’s dining scene and economy:

Peter Loria still recalls with disappointment the time he tried to open a restaurant in the Bergen County village of Ridgewood. He poured a chunk of his retirement savings into what he thought would become a destination for New Jersey food lovers, but he hit a common roadblock.

"I couldn’t get a liquor license," Loria, who owns Café Matisse in Rutherford, said of the 2007 project. "So it never opened. It was heartbreaking."

Loria is one of countless casualties of New Jersey’s notoriously restrictive laws governing who can sell alcohol. Those laws, which date back to the post-Prohibition era, limit municipalities to one liquor license per 3,000 residents. In places where demand is high, licenses can sell for $1 million or more — if they are available at all.

The result is a dining scene that, in the words of Morris Davis, a Rutgers professor who studies the economics of real estate and housing, is “diseased.” And more problematic still, the laws are seen by local officials as holding back efforts to revitalize downtownsand attract new, often younger residents.

New liquor license laws, experts say, could strengthen New Jersey’s economy…

Read more here.

Trump Hotel keeps its liquor license — and that’s as it should be

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As covered last week, a recent attempt to yank the liquor license from the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. has failed (for now). Although Trump’s opponents will surely be disappointed, R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle and Jonathan Haggerty wrote a piece for the Washington Post discussing why using “good moral character” laws to strip liquor licenses is a bad idea:

What do the president of the United States and an ex-convict from Michigan have in common? They’ve both been involved in legal disputes with the government over their fitness to hold a license.

President Trump — or rather, his hotel, the Trump International Hotel in Washington — holds a license that allows it to legally sell liquor. The Michigan man, Mike Grennan, sought to obtain a license to become a homebuilding contractor. Both situations demonstrate the potentially pernicious effects of so-called “good moral character” clauses in state and local licensing laws.

In June, a group of religious leaders and former judges filed a complaint with D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board arguing that Trump — and thus, the Trump Hotel — was unfit to hold a liquor license. Their claim is based on the “good moral character” provision in the District’s licensing law, which requires owners of drinking establishments to be of sound moral character to serve alcoholic beverages…

While Trump’s detractors may be disappointed by the decision, there is good reason to celebrate it. Good-moral-character clauses are notoriously vague, which makes them ripe for abuse by local government officials. The D.C. law does not define “good character,” according to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board spokesman Max Bluestein, and some states, including Michigan, do so using ambiguous terms, such as, “[T]he propensity on the part of the person to serve the public in the licensed area in a fair, honest, and open manner.”

Such open-ended language allows officials to use good-moral-character clauses in improper ways, such as targeting political enemies or, even worse, blocking well-meaning citizens from obtaining employment. This is because licensing boards around the country can, and often do, interpret good-moral-character clauses to mean that anyone with a prior criminal conviction is automatically disqualified from holding a license — regardless of the prior offense’s relation to the nature of the job the applicant is seeking…

Read the whole article here.

Trump Hotel Liquor License Safe (For Now)

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Recently, a petition was submitted to the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to revoke the liquor license of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. The petition was based on the requirement that license holders must exhibit “good moral character,” a standard which the petitioners argued President Donald Trump had not lived up to. Politico reports that the petition was rejected (for now):

Citing a technicality, a Washington, D.C., board on Wednesday refused to review a liquor license held by Trump International Hotel to determine whether the building's owner, President Donald Trump, meets the "good character" test required to serve alcohol in the city.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board questioned the timing of a complaint against the hotel, saying a character review couldn't be conducted until the hotel applies to renew its license in March.

The decision was unanimous, with two members of the seven-member board not in attendance.

A lawyer for the complainants said they would appeal…

Read the rest here.

(The use of good moral character clauses has an interesting and troubling history in the occupational licensing context, as R Street’s Jonathan Haggerty has previously written about).

#Actually, Beer Pitchers are Bad

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Last summer, R Street’s Cameron Smith caused a stir by calling out Alabama’s interpretation of a regulation that targeted margarita pitchers. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was forced to backtrack, conceding that it would leave the pitchers alone.

But don’t be fooled: Unruly drink pitchers are hardly confined to Alabama. In fact, our nation’s capital was recently forced to enact an even stricter rule to control its pitcher epidemic. Thanks to some quick-thinking government officials, D.C. law now officially prohibits customers from picking up pitchers and carrying them around a restaurant.

This regulation is a great example of local government attempting to respond to one of the paramount threats of our day. In fact, the only problem we can see with D.C.’s rule is that it fails to fully appreciate just how dangerous pitchers truly are.

It all started last year when D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board implemented a new rule declaring that bars and restaurants were allowed to offer bottle service to their customers, so long as they did not “allow any patrons to remove the bottle or pitcher from the table.”

The regulation’s purpose is to “curb the practice of patrons wandering around the establishment with large containers containing multiple servings of alcoholic beverages.” Cracking down on wandering drink containers is important, of course, because “large containers may be used as weapons during altercations.” After all, who among us hasn’t visited a restaurant and ordered a pitcher of our favorite boozy beverage, only to drown its contents and use the empty container to smack a fellow patron upside the head?

For starters, pitchers have intricately designed handles that ergonomically mold to the human hand, allowing customers to arm themselves faster than you can say: “I’ll have a pitcher of Miller Lite.” But pitchers can be weaponized in less intuitive ways, too. In addition to being useful for whacking surly bartenders, shattering a glass pitcher can create dangerous shards handy for stabbing fellow bar patrons. Large containers of alcohol can also be a fire hazard (alcohol is flammable, after all).

And don’t even get us started on spills. Every week, dozens of clumsy D.C. bar-goers order pitchers of booze only to spill their contents on their nicest Sperry Top-Siders. Spilled beer not only ruins leather shoes, it also turns dance floors into slippery skating rinks primed to trigger costly slip-and-fall lawsuits. While spillage risk is also present with pint glasses, the potential harm caused by a dropped pitcher is much more significant (to paraphrase Biggie: Mo Liquid Mo Problems).

In the end, the flaw with the ABC’s new rule is obvious: It is not concerned enough with the victims of pitcher-crime.  Ideally, we would outlaw drinking establishments altogether, as they are a clear danger to the public. However, as pragmatic advocates, we recommend one of two policy solutions for D.C.’s deficient pitcher law: Either #BanThePitcher entirely, or arm every person in every bar in the District with their own pitcher for self-defense.

If we ban pitchers completely – coupled with felony convictions and jail time for anyone found still carrying one within District limits – then we can stop pitcher-fueled bar fights and catastrophic spills before they even happen. But if a complete ban is a step too far, let’s at least fight fire with fire. We should give every policy wonk and congressional staffer in every D.C. bar his or her own pitcher to wield in self-defense. That way, the next time someone pours beer on your new Tory Burch flats, you can respond in kind by dousing them with a jug full of PBR. Not only will this bring justice to such abhorrent crimes, it will likely deter them from happening in the first place.

It’s long past time for the D.C. government to show that it cares about its citizens by escalating the war on pitchers. Remember: People don’t kill people, pitchers kill people.

C. Jarrett Dieterle is the director of commercial freedom and a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, as well as the editor of DrinksReform.org. Daniel DiLoreto is a policy intern for commercial freedom at R Street.

Kansas Allows Self-Service Beer Bars and Stronger Brews

Kansas was one of several states that still prohibited the popular self-serve craft beer bars that are sprouting up around the county. But according to the Lawrence Journal-World, state lawmakers have now legalized self-serve bars in addition to enacting a host of other beer reforms:

Bars and restaurants in Kansas will soon be allowed to start serving alcohol as early as 6 a.m., and pubs will be allowed to dispense beer through automated, self-serve taps.

Those are just two of the provisions of a multipronged alcohol bill that Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer signed into law Monday...

Other provisions of the bill allow microbreweries to produce beers with up to 15 percent alcohol by weight; regulate the sale and production of alcoholic candy and foods containing alcohol; and clarify existing statutes dealing with the sale of beer from microbreweries in refillable containers known as growlers.

The new laws will take effect when they are published in the Kansas Register, which is likely to be within the next few weeks.

More here.