New Bill Proposes Restricted Liquor License to Help Save BYO Restaurants

The proposed bill, sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal, would create a restricted liquor license allowing the state's BYO restaurants to sell wine, cider and beer.

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Earlier this year, Senator Vin Gopal (Monmouth County) introduced a bill (S2413) that would allow licensed restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages through takeout and delivery, and allow distilleries to sell alcoholic beverages through takeout. The State Senate approved it on May 14, and to-go cocktails quickly became a much-needed lifeline for restaurants and bars with liquor licenses.

Now, Senator Gopal is sponsoring another bill (S2964), proposing a restricted liquor license for New Jersey’s many BYO restaurants, which often occupy small spaces that don’t allow for many tables while following required social distancing regulations. According to the proposed bill, its goal is to establish “restricted beer, wine, and cider license,” and provide “tax credit under corporate business tax and gross income tax for loss in value to certain alcoholic beverage licenses.”

Liquor licenses in New Jersey can cost up to a million dollars—compared to similar license fees in New York City of around $4,000 per year—and have long inhibited the growth of the state’s restaurant industry. The controversial and antiquated liquor license laws have only exacerbated the impact of the pandemic on small restaurants.

Many top BYO restaurant owners, including Ehren Ryan of Common Lot in Millburn, support the proposed legislation. “The bill as introduced seeks to strike the right balance between the need to help BYO restaurants, who employ thousands of people in the state, while being fair to those who have paid exorbitant amounts for full licenses” said Ryan in a recent press release. It will allow “for restaurants to to serve beer, wine and cider to patrons at a table for an annual fee that is comparable to what New York restaurants pay. They remain prohibited from providing a full range of liquor or from a bar service, which remains the right of full license holders. This gives full licensees a commercial advantage while providing much needed additional revenue options to those restaurants that can’t afford, or can’t source, a full license.”

Meny Vaknin, chef/owner of MishMish in Montclair said the proposed legislation “is critical to the survival of so many New Jersey restaurants who want to continue to bring a local community dining experience to their towns and cities.”

Though outdoor and indoor dining (at 25 percent capacity) has been re-introduced, New Jersey’s restaurant industry is still in crisis, with many eateries having permanently closed already. With winter and another possible spike in Covid-19 cases on the horizon, BYO restaurants would certainly benefit from additional revenues from being able to serve wine, beer and cider—a move that may save many.

More details on the bill can be found here.

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