Watertown restaurants may be allowed to have bring-your-own alcohol, but first the details must be settled by a joint group of Town Council subcommittees.
At a joint meeting of the Rules & Ordinances, Public Safety, and Planning subcommittees on Thursday, steps were taken toward crafting the new ordinance which would allow BYOB.
The town has a limited number of liquor licenses – 34 – and it has requested 15 more from the state through a special home rule petition to the State Legislature. Some of these licenses have been earmarked for approved projects, and others have been limited to the business districts in town. Those restaurants falling outside those areas cannot apply for one of the new licenses.
A BYOB rule could not come soon enough for at least one Watertown restaurant. Royal opened on Main and Lexington streets in March, and has received good reviews for its food, but many diners have complained about the fact that they do not serve alcohol, said Melanie Nye, a partner in the restaurant with owner and chef Rachid Kourda.
“We are losing customers because we don’t have a liquor license,” Nye said. “We would prefer to have a full liquor license but we have been told we don’t fall in the new zone for new licenses.”
Nye brought reviews from Yelp and other sites which specifically said the restaurant should have BYOB, if it cannot get a liquor license. She told the Councilors that customers have walked out of the restaurant when they learned alcohol was not available.
Resident Rena Baskin, who is part of Belmont Watertown Local First, said she thinks BYOB would also help consumer choice, and noted that alcohol is expensive at restaurants with a glass of wine costing as much as a bottle at the store.
“If I want to have a glass of wine I don’t want to be told this is where I have to go,” Baskin said. “There are people who live here who cannot afford to dine at a fancy restaurant. They would be free to go to Royal and have a quiet dinner and bring their wine.”
One concern was the enforcement of the licenses. The BYOB would increase the work load at the same time the town could get 15 more liquor licenses, said Watertown Police Sgt. Thomas Grady.
The Police Department already runs inspections and follows up on reports of violations for restaurants with liquor licenses.
“It is one of my main responsibilities along with investigating crimes,” Grady said.
Grady runs inspections and investigates on reports of violations, such as underage serving and over serving. He said there are probably between 30 and 50 violations reported each year.
Rules for BYOB
Restaurants could not just start allowing BYOB. They would have to get a license, and would have to follow rules that will be enforced by the Watertown Police and the Licensing Board.
Councilors do not want to allow people to come in and serve themselves alcohol.
They agreed that alcohol would be given to the servers by customers, and then the servers would pour the drinks for the customers so they can control how much alcohol is consumed. In addition, servers would have to be trained on what forms ID are acceptable for proof of age.
They also want to make sure only sit-down restaurants can have BYOB.
“We want full service restaurants (to get BYOB licenses). We don’t want sandwich shops. We don’t want pizza shops (having the licenses),” said Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said.
The subcommittees agreed that they will have come up with the definition of a sit-down restaurant.
Council Vice President Steve Corbett said he does not want to limit the BYOB licenses to just “fine dining” restaurants. If a family restaurant with full waiter service wants one, he would like it to be available to them, too. The rest of the committee agreed.
How much the licenses will cost and how many should be available also came up for debate. Councilor Ken Woodland said he would like to charge $200 and start with three to test out how BYOB works.
The committee considered $500, but some wanted to make it higher so that it is a commitment for an establishment to get a BYOB license. Councilor Aaron Dushku said he found that Johnston, R.I., charges $1,000 and Atlanta charges $2,000.
The subcommittee members voted 4-1 to charge $1,000 per year, with Woodland voting against it. They did not agree on whether or not to limit the number of BYOB licenses.
The subcommittees will meet again on July 2 to approve a draft of the ordinance to send to the Licensing Board to review and comment upon. Then the ordinance would go to the full Town Council for consideration.