The Evanston liquor code, with about 35 different liquor license classifications, does not have a provision allowing for restaurants to operate as “bring your own bottle” establishments.
When a newly opened business recently asked for such a license, the Liquor Control Board recommended the introduction of a new “Class BYOB” license, a form of which was presented to the Administration and Public Works Committee on March 11. For several reasons, the new class fell flat.
The new business, a “pop-up restaurant” concept called Company, operates a 16-seat space on Chicago Avenue near Dempster Street and features rotating guest chefs and menus. According to the minutes of the Liquor Control Board meeting, the restaurant’s owner, Eric Singer, said the small scale of the restaurant makes a bar and its liquor license fees impractical. Instead, the restaurant wants to allow patrons to bring in their own drinks.
The “bring your own bottle” concept is popular in Chicago, spawning a book and numerous websites listing dozens of BYOB sites. According to Evanston’s Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, Chicago does not regulate BYOB restaurants through the liquor code and does not require a liquor license. Some spots in Evanston currently allow BYOB, again without City regulation.
In preparing the City’s proposed BYOB ordinance, Mr. Farrar said he looked at what other jurisdictions did and found that “there is no consistent approach.” Some jurisdictions regulate and charge a fee, while others regulate without a fee and others, like Chicago, do not require a BYOB license at all.
The City’s law department suggested language for the ordinance, but Mr. Farrar said he welcomed any input from the APW Committee. A suggested annual fee for a BYOB license, $1,500, was selected because it was “just something we picked similar to other uses,” said Mr. Farrar.
Liability was a primary concern of the Mayor and the Liquor Control Board, said Mr. Farrar, particularly since Evanston is a university community. All restaurants in which alcoholic beverages are consumed must have staff that has been through Beverage and Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET).
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asked about the proposed fee for a BYOB license and how much the City charges for its other liquor licenses. A BYOB establishment makes no money from allowing patrons to bring their own bottles into a restaurant for a meal unless what is known as a corkage fee is charged. Generally, however, the corkage fee is expected to cover dishwashing and linen fees. A $1,500 annual license fee may seem too steep for small restaurants to recoup from corkage fees.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked about the overall liquor fee structure. Under the code, she said, the City charges the same liquor fee to a 25-seat restaurant as it does to a 500-seat restaurant, even though obviously the larger establishment makes much more from liquor sales than does the smaller. She also insisted that any current holder of a liquor license need not pay “even a single dime” for a BYOB license.
Ald. Rainey also pointed out that the proposed BYOB ordinance may apply to Type II restaurants such as McDonalds and allow them to become BYOB establishments as well.
Mr. Farrar assured her that “restaurant” is a term of art in the code, and that McDonald’s would not qualify as a restaurant in the proposed new ordinance.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the smaller-than-usual committee (only three members, as two members were in Washington, D.C., for a National League of Cities conference) decided to hold the measure in committee for more information and perhaps more work.
That work may be just the beginning. Mr. Farrar has been talking for some time about a wholesale revision of the City’s liquor code that “has grown in fits and starts since 1972.” He said he expected his department to tackle the revision, and perhaps consolidate some of the 35 or so licenses into far fewer this year.