Miss Whis: BYOW – What Whistler Thinks..
We Whistlerites know all too well how the overly governed and somewhat ridiculous BC Liquor Laws affect our outdoor, active lifestyle, and put excessive regulations and stipulations in place in order to ‘maintain the peace’. We also know we love a beverage, here in Whistler. Nothing really says ‘epic day’ like a Caesar and a cold beer after a day on the mountain, whether it be snow or sun-fuelled. Our gorgeous lakeside parks are screaming out for casual bbq drinks, and the free Whistler Present Concert Series is practically made for beverage consumption. BUT, as we’ve all come to figure out, whether it be through a fine, your unopened alcohol being tipped out right in front of your eyes, or a cop on a bike regulating the 50 year old women sharing a nice bottle of wine on a rug whilst taking in the sweet tones of a band in Whistler Olympic Plaza; you are not allowed to drink outside. I wish I could have the great news that this law has changed and we’ve acquired the lax European laws of ‘punish the belligerent, not just everyone’, but no, sadly, I think that’s way off.
Instead, the provincial government has passed a law that now allows patrons to bring their own bottle of wine into participating restaurants. As the Province noted; “The changes — which apply to establishments with liquor licences — take effect immediately and apply to wine only.” According to the Province, the government indicated that the change was fueled by requests from the restaurant industry itself, and sees the change resulting in more people choosing to go out for dinner now that they can bring their own wine, which will have a corkage fee attached to it.
“It’s really refreshing when the government talks to industry and makes changes like this,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Service Association. “Oenophiles in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have been able to bring their own bottle to restaurants for years. In those provinces, the corkage fees vary wildly, from zero to $60. In California, the average is $10 to $20.”
This concept has worked in multiple locations around the world, a notable one being Sydney, Australia, whereby many lower-end restaurants scrapped their wine-list altogether and just allowed the corkage to be their main source of alcohol revenue. The change ultimately will benefit liquor stores and smaller restaurants that don’t do a high portion of liquor/wine sales, and will also benefit the customer, as they can choose whether to open that special cellared bottle that they’d been saving, and enjoy it with a wonderful restaurant meal, rather than just at home.
Wayne Katz, of Gone Eatery, Moguls Coffee House and Zogs, and personality within Whistler, notes there’s certainly been mixed responses to the changes and that some restaurants may be able to carry less inventory as a result. His own establishments that offer alcohol will have a nominal fee for corkage as they currently serve “very little alcohol, so it’s a win situation.” He notes this is a “great opportunity for the LBC to push more wine sales. Think about it, a lot of people buying in the liquor stores and bringing it to the restaurants mean that public and private wine sellers will benefit and that the underlying overall motive is the BCLB wins in conjunction with the BC wine industry.”
Other restaurateurs also embraced the change, such as Earls Whistler, whose Managing Partner Kevin Wallace made this statement, “Earls Whistler is pleased to participate in the Province of British Columbia’s new and more open wine policies, which include the ability for a guest to bring their own special bottle of wine to a restaurant. Guests will be invited to give their unopened, commercially produced and sealed wine to the restaurant manager who will have staff open and serve the wine to the guest at their table. A service, or corkage fee of $25.00 per 750 ml bottle will be applied directly to the guests bill as well as any applicable taxes.”
In order to apply for the ability to charge a corkage fee, you must have a Food Primary Licence, so bars such as GLC, Merlin’s, Dusty’s will not see this go into effect, however Paul Street, Director of Food and Beverage for Whistler Blackcomb notes that they are, “still looking at this for our Food Primary licenses at Steep’s and Christine’s on-mountain for winter.”
Not all restaurants have felt as if this was a step in the right direction for liquor licensing in BC, as Angela Ruffer, Owner and Director of Bavaria Restuarant points out; “I as a restaurant owner think it is a ridiculous idea of a guest bringing in their own wine to my establishment?? We are a restaurant to sell, and give the guest a great experience, not a place you’re going to visit at a friend’s house. (We) are in business to sell the guest a nice bottle of wine that suits their budget, so, next the guest will want to bring in their own food….and what? For a food cost?? I can certainly appreciate a special occasion if a guest has a special bottle of wine i.e. Anniversary, wedding, graduation etc. No problem, but I believe if we start doing this, it will create a chaos situation.”
Thankfully, this law is voluntarily undertaken by the restaurants, so any establishment that feels as if it would work to the detriment of their business can simply choose not to partake in the opportunity. As Ru Mehta, Manager of Teppan Village, puts as “On a positive note it is good to see any relaxation of the archaic BC liquor laws. So in that regard it is a step in the right direction.” Teppan Village is choosing to participate in the program, charging a corkage fee of $25-$30. Mr. Mehta says; “I don’t think it will have any effect on our business and I think the passing of the law is a non-issue. It’s great that if someone has a special bottle of wine they can bring it and enjoy it with their meal.” Many consumers would also take this view, as they are now able to enjoy their favourite restaurants without blowing the bank on a decent bottle of wine, or having to settle for a less desirable bottle from a poorly put together wine-list.
Time to crack out that 2000 Penfolds St. Henri that I’ve been saving..