A bill that would protect recipients of restaurant gift certificates received an unflattering review from the industry yesterday during a Senate hearing that lasted barely as long as an appetizer course.
The bill, sponsored by Baltimore County Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, was prompted by September's closing of the Milton Inn in Sparks. When the former management of the four-star restaurant lost its lease, the proprietor said he would be unable to honor unused gift certificates worth an estimated $130,000.
Boozer, a Republican, said he introduced the bill after hearing complaints from angry and unfed constituents who wanted their just desserts.
The legislation would require restaurants to put the money they receive for gift certificates in an escrow account from which they could draw only as the certificates were used. The account would be used for refunds in the event the restaurant went out of business.
"It's somebody else's money until it's used," Boozer said in an interview.
But the restaurant industry finds the legislation about as palatable as overcooked asparagus.
Thomas B. Stone Jr., legislative director of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said writing a law to cover all 8,500 restaurants in Maryland was "like hitting a mosquito with a hammer."
Stone told the Senate Finance Committee that the Milton Inn case was an isolated incident. He predicted that, if the escrow requirements were adopted, many restaurants would stop offering gift certificates.
Stone, the sole witness to testify against the bill, said the story has a happy ending. Both the new Milton Inn, reopened under new management, and Hamilton's, the new restaurant opened by the old Milton management in Fells Point have decided to honor the gift certificates, he said.
Pub Date: 2/05/98