New restaurants in Carroll will have to be in business for three months before they can apply for a license to serve alcohol, the county liquor board has ruled.
The new regulation, approved Tuesday along with a clarification of the bar-clearing rule, was designed to help restaurants meet their food quotas, said board chairman Earle Brewer.
Food sales must make up 40 percent of the revenue in establishments with Class B restaurant licenses.
"We've had a problem with restaurants establishing themselves as restaurants," Mr. Brewer said.
The new regulations are designed to give establishments three months to establish a steady customer base for food instead of alcoholic beverages, board members said.
Two restaurant owners -- Jim Breuer of Maggie's and Bob Contarino of Ledo Pizza, both in Westminster -- said they agreed with the board's reasoning but thought the new regulation was too restrictive.
"I don't know if you're giving a new restaurant a fighting chance," said Mr. Breuer. "The best opportunity to build clientele is in the first three months. I'm not opposed to the restructuring, but is this the best way?"
Both men suggested that the board consider reviewing an applicant's building plans to make sure the owners are designing a restaurant and putting a significant amount of money into the project. Prince George's County and the Rockville city government use that method to determine eligibility for liquor licenses, Mr. Breuer said.
David Johannson, of Champs in Westminster, agreed with the new restrictions. He said that merely looking at plans can't show the board whether the owners plan to concentrate on providing food.
"When someone comes in here with a nice shirt and tie, the board can't determine whether they want to be a legitimate restaurant because they don't know the person," Mr. Johannson said.
Mr. Johannson said the new regulations will force new restaurants to concentrate on food production, and spend money on chefs and service staff, rather than rely on sales of alcoholic beverages to survive. The regulations will create an even playing field for competitors, he said.
Board members said they felt the new regulations also would ensure that owners are serious about the restaurant business.
"This will make them think longer about the money they have to have to stay in business before they apply for a license and then go from there," said board member William A. Sapp, who formerly had opposed the regulation.
Liquor board members said businesses could apply for Class D tavern licenses, which allow beer and wine sales but prohibit Sunday opening, without having to meet a food requirement.
Last year, the liquor board tried to change the Class D license to allow establishments to serve hard liquor and be open seven days a week.
However, the county's General Assembly delegation -- which must approve all liquor law changes -- would not introduce the bill.
"We received opposition from constituents and the police," said Del. Richard C. Matthews. "Most of the delegation thought it would start a bad trend of taverns proliferating on every block, like they have in Baltimore County."
The second rule change would require all beverage containers to be removed from table and bar tops by 1:15 a.m.