Food, Beverage and Hospitality

August 22, 1994

The restaurant business is largely dependent on sales of alcoholic beverages. That's why Carroll County liquor board rules require those eating establishments to collect only a bit more than 40 percent of revenues from food in order to hold a license; the lion's share of their income can still come from alcohol sales.

That percentage of food-sales requirement is among the lowest in Maryland. Nevertheless, it aims to distinguish between restaurant licenses and those for bars and taverns.

Requiring restaurants to offer complete meal service as a condition of maintaining a license is a standard way of guarding against abuse by dining establishments. The strict interpretation of such rules has been a concern for more than one legitimate Carroll County restaurant.

But the recent board proposal to force restaurants to stop serving alcohol one hour after their kitchens have stopped serving full-course meals smacks of extremism. It would force late diners lingering over post-prandial libations to be ushered out by an anxious owner who knows that the cook had already hung up his apron for the night.

"This is the hospitality business and we have to be hospitable," explained Frank Kosmakos, owner of Maria's of Westminster.

"I might as well slap them, either verbally or physically," as try to deny them a nightcap 61 minutes after the kitchen has stopped preparing entrees, added Bob Lowry of Cockey's Tavern in Westminster.

Many restaurateurs have told the county liquor board that the change would either cost them customers or would raise their expenses by requiring full kitchen staffing beyond the peak serving hours. Many establishments trim their food offerings after 9 p.m., while current law allows them to serve alcoholic drinks up to 1 a.m.

While the board's rule to require a 90-day waiting period before new restaurants can serve alcohol is a drag on new business creation, this regulation also seems to have no positive effect. The board should toss out its proposed amendment, and focus on real problems.

Any manager concerned about keeping his liquor license is not going to allow all-night drinking in his restaurant, in any case. It's bad for business, just as is the board's proposed rule to lock up the liquor cabinet as the kitchen begins to shut down.

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