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B.C. restaurant owners "on the cusp" of being able to buy liquor at a discount

The B.C. government is also "working on fast tracking the process for restaurants who want to expand patio service," according to the Ministry of Attorney General
The process for getting a licensed patio has been cumbersome and time consuming for restaurant owners | Rob Kruyt

B.C. restaurant owners are "on the cusp" of having the provincial government agree to a deal that would let them buy alcohol at wholesale prices, BC Restaurant and Food Services Association CEO Ian Tostenson told Business in Vancouver May 13. 

The Ministry of the Attorney General also sent BIV a statement on May 13 to confirm that there have been "accelerated on-going conversations around hospitality pricing in light of COVID-19’s impacts on the restaurant sector."

Attorney General David Eby told Business in Vancouver in July 2018 that while such a proposal was “still on the table,"one stumbling block to the proposed change to allow restaurants to buy products at a wholesale price is opposition from those who believe that if the government reduces the price of alcohol that it sells to restaurants, the province will rake in less revenue from alcohol sales.

An alternate view is that lower taxes will increase overall alcohol sales, and help offset that lost revenue. 

Restaurant owners currently have to pay the full retail price for beer, wine and spirits. While it is not clear exactly how steep a discount restaurant owners will get, it could be in the 15% to 20% range. 

Tostenson said that he has been urging government to implement wholesale pricing for restaurants since at least June, 2018, when B.C.’s Business Technical Advisory Panel (Liquor Policy), headed by Vancouver wine lawyer Mark Hicken, released a report that had 23 recommendations. To learn more about that report, click here.

Tostenson believes that the B.C. government is also separately intending to clip red tape and make it easier for restaurant owners to get approval to open licensed patios. 

"It's a great move by government," Tostenson said. "I'm totally in appreciation and industry is totally elated."

He explained that the current process to open a licensed patio is to send the city a plan for the patio, and a diagram as well as a licensing fee. The city decision could then take months to approve the proposal.

The restaurant owner would then separately have to contact the province and go through the process of having the government amend the specific liquor licence to allow for more seats and a patio. The new process is expected to be that the province will essentially rubber-stamp all requests that are OK with the city. 

Vancouver councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Lisa Dominato have been spearheading a drive to make it easier for restaurant owners in the city to open licensed patios. Kirby-Yung introduced a motion May 13 to have staff support more flexible patio types and sizes, and it passed unanimously. She then tweeted that she believes that new flexible, innovative and expedited patio permitting will be available "imminently" and that moving dining outside is critical for restaurants' ability to survive.

She explained to BIV after the vote that a key part of the motion was that it would provide those with craft brewery licences to have patios. Previously, the only breweries allowed to have patios would have been those with restaurant or other licences.

The motion also advocated having staff come up with ways to create "commons-style eating spaces with additional chairs, benches or tables on public plazas or public spaces, that can enable outdoor eating areas to support different takeout or quick service restaurants and cafes in various neighbourhoods."

The Ministry of the Attorney General sent BIV a statement that also sounds like it is on board with easier licensing for patios.

"We are working on fast tracking the process for restaurants who want to expand patio service," the Ministry of Attorney General's statement said. 

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