Monday, April 16, 2012

BYOCB to Restaurants - A Win-Win Idea

Have you ever been seated in your favourite restaurant, noshing on your favourite meal and thought to yourself, "this meal would go perfectly with (insert name of craft beer or wine of your choice here), I wish it was on the menu"?

Yes, I speak of the fabled Bring Your Own Booze (BYOB) to restaurants, which is not just some far-out concept realized in liberal European nations. It is a reality in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba where no longer is there a need to salivate about what could have been, as you can, in participating restaurants, simply turn to your server and order one of the bottles of wine you purchased legally elsewhere, brought with you and handed over to the restaurant personnel upon arrival. It seems only wine has been included in the BYOB category at this point, but why not BYOCB (Bring Your Own Craft Beer), as there is no logical reason why beer could not be included.

Although the laws vary slightly from province to province, the basic idea is that restaurants have the choice to allow patrons to bring in their own bottle(s) of wine, which they turn over to the restaurant upon arrival. They can then order that bottle(s) of wine, as they would any bottle off the menu, and pay a "corkage" fee for their wine to be served to them.

All other facets of the liquor laws remain the same in regards to serving the BYOB wine. Servers must not serve to minors, must not over-serve, cannot serve to intoxicated patrons, the alcohol has to be purchased through legal channels, etc. The advantage to the restaurant is that they do not have to carry a large inventory of wines in an attempt to satisfy a wide range of pallets. Restaurants still make a profit charging the corkage.

The advantages to patrons is that they get to drink the wine they want to drink with their meal and are not restricted to what the restaurant may or may not carry on their menus.They may pay less for that wine as well, depending on the corkage fee charged. From the research I have done, the corkage fees run from nothing, in places like Montreal - yet another reason to love this great city - to up to $50 in Toronto - yet another reason...okay, I'll remain silent. Some restaurants in Ontario were even advertising reduced prices on traditionally slow nights during the week to try to lure in patrons.

With the Liberal Government's current promise to review the province's current liquor laws, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a BYOB law could be passed. In an email communication with VEBB, a Liquor Control and Licensing Branch spokesperson stated that the Liberals, "will consider 'Bring Your Own Wine' as a part of a larger review of liquor policy in the province." When queried specifically if the review was considering beer as well be included in the BYOB review, a "no decision has been made," response was all I received. I think it is imperative that those in the craft beer industry, consumers of craft beer and advocates for the consumers (are you listening CAMRA BC) make some noise and let the government know that it is not acceptable to make these changes without including beer in any BYOB program. I can guarantee you wine advocates are on this issue and making their voices heard, which is why wine was mentioned by the LCLB in their email.

Cafe Kathmandu owner, Abi Sharma, whose small Commercial Drive eatery does not have the room or the operating budget to inventory a large variety of wine or beer, is all for the concept of BYOB. His restaurant, which serves amazing food, is the perfect example of an establishment that would benefit greatly from allowing BYOB.

"It (BYOB) is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both patrons and restaurants so long as the (corkage) fee is reasonably good enough, for sure," stated Sharma. "I am willing to participate."

I can only think of one way to improve upon the experience of eating one of Abi's goat curries, that being able to enjoy the IPA of my choice with it. If BYOB came into effect, that experience could become a reality.

As the government would still be collecting their tax from the sale of the wine and beer originally and the corkage fee, they would not be out any tax dollars and as for the restaurants, if they do not see this as being beneficial for their bottom line, they would not have to participate. But for those who want to offer BYOB, like Cafe Kathmandu, this is a win-win concept that could only further enhance BC's growing reputation as a tourist destination and for cities like Vancouver, which is becoming somewhat of a Mecca for foodies and craft beer lovers, it would be a natural fit.

Let's hope those reviewing our liquor policies are thinking along the same lines. I, for one, cannot wait for the opportunity to take in a few of my favourite IPA's to compliment my already-out-of-this-world goat curry at Cafe Kathmandu.

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