Boston Licensing Board approves lift on BYOB ban

By John Lynds

Special to the Gazette

Following the City Council’s lead, the Boston Licensing Board (BLB) voted unanimously April 28 to lift the long-standing ban on BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) in small neighborhood restaurants like those that line many of the streets in Jamaica Plain.

Two people with close ties to the Jamaica Plain restaurant industry gave the proposal mixed reviews.

According to a statement from the BLB, the board will work on drafting “stringent rules to regulate the practice” over the next several months.

The bill, introduced by At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu, would allow patrons in restaurants with 30 seats or less and a waitstaff to bring their own bottles of beer and wine. However, restaurants in Beacon Hill, Downtown, the North End, South End, Bay Village, Fenway, Chinatown, Seaport, West End, and Back Bay neighborhoods of Boston are not eligible for the new BYOB program.

“BYOB will bring new vitality to our city by giving small-business owners and consumers more options to build a vibrant restaurant scene in every neighborhood,” said Wu Michelle in a statement last week.

Wu said the new ordinance would help small restaurants in Boston’s outer neighborhoods like to begin competing with restaurants in areas inundated with beer, wine, and liquor licenses like Beacon Hill. Many restaurant owners without beer, wine, or liquor licenses have long complained that loose patrons to downtown due to the inability to provide alcohol.

David Doyle, who is part of a restaurant team that owns several JP establishments, including Centre Street Cafe and the newly-opened Casa Verde, said in an email that the BYOB issue is a complicated one.

“But briefly, I’d say I’m concerned about it creating a two-tiered system, whereby more affluent neighborhoods end up with the bulk of full liquor licenses, and less affluent neighborhoods would rely more on BYOB,” he said. “On the plus side, the policy could allow more restaurants with limited space and budgets to open and thrive; on the down side, restaurants that take great pride in their beverage programs (which take considerable expertise and resources) could take a hit.  I think that would be a shame, as a well-curated program, like the 20 draft beers we offer at Casa Verde, can add a lot to a guest’s dining experience.”

Gerald Robbins, executive director of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street (HJSMS), a business promotion organization that works with many restaurants, said that HJSMS has not taken a position on the BYOB initiative. But, he said, that some businesses pursue beer and wine licenses in order to “get profit,” but said that a corkage fee might be able to help offset that.

“I think it can work. However, I haven’t talked to the businesses about it,” said Robbins.

It’s unclear if the BLB would adopt the same regulation set forth by the City Council’s vote back in December but Wu feels the Council’s proposal is a good road map to do BYOB in a safe, regulated way. She added that it is meant to give entrepreneurs an additional tool and residents more dining out options.

The plan approved by the Council would allow establishments in eligible neighborhoods to first obtain a BYOB License from the BLB before allowing patrons to begin participating in the new BYOB ordinance. A fee of $300 will be assessed upon the granting of the license and must be renewed annually.

The new BYOB program would be highly regulated and patrons may only bring wine in containers no greater than 750ml and malt beverages in containers no greater than 16oz, and only a total amount up to 750ml of wine or up to 72 ounces of malt beverages, or one six-pack of beer, per two people.

Also all new employees at establishments with a BYOB license must participate in an insurance industry-approved safe-service-of-alcohol training that can be done online. All current employees must complete the training within 14 days of the license being awarded.

“I see this as an opportunity to bring increased economic activity to neighborhoods across Boston and I thank the Licensing Board for taking up this measure that has great potential to make a positive impact on our city’s economic growth,” Mayor Walsh told local newspapers after the vote. “I look forward to reviewing the revised regulations that will be put forth by the Licensing Board in the coming months.”

[Peter Shanley contributed to this article.]

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