Liquor Board's Food Folly CARROLL COUNTY

November 13, 1992

All the restaurants now in business in Carroll County ought to raise a glass in thanks to the liquor board. The board just approved a new regulation that requires any new restaurant to operate for at least 90 days before applying for a liquor license. That rule guarantees there won't be many new restaurants opening in this county any time soon.

The board has the misguided notion that this new regulation will ensure that restaurants will obtain most of their revenue from food rather than liquor sales. Under county regulations, restaurants with liquor licenses must obtain 41 percent of their revenues from food sales. There have been a number of establishments that don't meet that limit, and liquor board chairman Earle H. Brewer believes the new regulation will help restaurants develop reputations for food rather than drink.

The new regulation adds no additional enforcement authority against restaurants now in business that violate the food sales requirement. The liquor board will still have to cite them and go through the existing enforcement process.

Unfortunately, the liquor board refuses to consider the economics of the restaurant business. A restaurant has a fixed number of seats and a few hours each day to make its money. In order to cover its overhead, pay off its debt and realize a profit, a restaurateur has to maximize the amount of sales per seat. That is why waiters' eyes light up when customers order appetizers, side dishes, desserts and coffee with their entrees. But usually food sales alone don't generate enough revenue to make a restaurant profitable. Selling liquor does.

Who benefits from this new regulation? The public doesn't. The number of restaurants in Carroll is likely to stay the same or decrease. Protected against competition, the existing eateries can raise their prices without suffering serious repercussions. The county doesn't benefit, either, because there won't be any new investment, which means no extra jobs or added tax revenue.

The real beneficiaries are the county's existing restaurants, which won't have this ill-conceived burden hung around their necks. The market for restaurants is far from saturated. In fact, Carroll could benefit from having a few more sit-down eateries. But they won't be opening any time soon as long as this regulation remains in effect.

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