Using a restaurant as her backdrop, Premier Christy Clark decanted seven more liquor-law reforms on Tuesday, including the discounted institution commonly known as as “happy hour.”
B.C. pubs have always been permitted to offer time-limited drink specials, they just can’t call them happy hours.
As of next spring, licensed businesses that sell liquor will be able to offer happy hours with limited hours and discounts, Clark said in a media teleconference.
* Families accompanied by minors will have the option of dining together in neighbourhood pubs and legions.
* Customers will be able to order drinks without ordering food.
* Patrons will be able to carry their drinks from bars to adjoining restaurants.
“These changes are about updating antiquated licensing rules to reflect what British Columbians actually want, while continuing to protect public safety,” Clark said from a Cactus Club Café outlet in Vancouver.
Consultation by parliamentary secretary John Yap has been the most extensive ever undertaken by the government, she noted. The changes are intended to recognize lifestyle changes as well as health and safety concerns while supporting business, she added.
The changes have been a long time coming.
“All these years I’ve been in the industry, we’ve talked to people coming from other countries, complaining about how they have to order food to get a drink,” said Bryce Herman, a hospitality consultant and former Kamloops pub owner. “This is really a huge breath of fresh air to be able to do this.”
People are more inclined to drink moderately when accompanied by family, he noted. That behaviour is seen in European and U.S. experience with more liberal policies.
Herman recalled once having to refuse service to a group of 16 women celebrating a baby shower because they had an infant with them, “even though I knew this baby’s not drinking.”
Craig Thomson, president of Kamloops Legion Branch 52, said easing the restriction on families with minors doesn’t mean it will be easier for minors to obtain liquor.
“All this is allowing is for families to come in and use the liquor facilities while the bar is open,” Thomson said. “I know it’s something we asked for, something we lobbied hard for.”
The changes will reflect the legion’s evolving membership, no longer restricted to just veterans and families, while providing flexibility to help legion halls remain open, he added.
Al Deacon, owner of two city pubs, said he won’t be opening his doors to minors, since pub owners will be allowed to set their own rules. Deacon feels his patrons prefer the status quo.
Clark also announced the government’s plan to step up its beverage service program, Serving It Right. Sales and service staff not already certified will be required to undergo training and certification while a watered-down program will be required for special occasion licences.
Clark was asked why the government is choosing to unveil the liquor policy reforms gradually.
“Well, there were seven today,” she said. “These regulations are complex and they’ve been built up over a century. It really is a thicket of regulations.
“You know, 100 years is a long time to wait before making changes in liquor laws,” she added.
Provincial liquor regulation has, however, undergone reform in the past. The most significant changes, allowing neighbourhood pubs and private sale of beer and wine, were enacted in the 1980s as B.C. prepared to welcome the world to Expo 86.
“Some of these could be a reality in the spring,” Clark added. “We’re trying to move as quickly as we can on it.”