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Customer: A bottle of the Caymus Cabernet please. Waiter: Sorry, sir, I am afraid you'll have to order something cheaper. It's a little slow in here tonight and we can't sell any more expensive wine unless we sell more food.

Sound ridiculous? Perhaps not in Vancouver ...

The City of Vancouver is currently implementing changes to its bylaws regarding the operating hours of restaurants and liquor service in restaurants. One little noticed section of the changes seriously threatens the business viability of most restaurants in Vancouver and would have extremely detrimental effects on the consumption of wine in restaurants.

As part of the condition of granting a restaurant a food-primary license, the province (LCLB) currently has a requirement that the restaurant primarily be in the business of selling food rather than liquor. The province can currently check this by enforcing a requirement that in any 24 hour period, the restaurant should not be selling more liquor than food. While this method of testing the balance seems problematic to me, it generally has been accepted by restaurants because food sales at lunch (and/or breakfast etc ...) can balance out higher liquor sales at dinner.

The City, however, is proposing to change the 24 hour check to an 8 hour check. That would mean that solely during the hours of dinner service, a restaurant would have to sell more food than liquor. It doesn't take too much thought to realize that this is a completely unworkable rule. Suppose, for example, that a single table of two orders an expensive bottle of wine ($150) with two entrees ($50). That purchase would skew the sales toward liquor instantly. If that was the only table for the night, or if all other tables ordered 50/50, then the restaurant would be off-side for the night. I would venture to guess that this rule will be immediately unworkable in most popular restaurants in Vancouver.

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. Any restaurant that sells moderate to expensively priced wine should be extremely worried about this rule. As the Olympics approaches, this is a huge backward step for the modernization of wine laws in Vancouver.

Restaurant groups are mobilizing to fight this law. The Vancouver Sun has also covered the wine/liquor food bylaw this morning (October 27th)

Update (November 3, 2009): Good News .... The City of Vancouver has withdrawn the proposed bylaw and it will not be considered in its original form, as described above. There will now be a "rethink" and further consultation with the industry.