With Thursday's announcement that British Columbians will be allowed to bring their own wine to restaurants, cabinet Minister Rich Coleman says he has ticked off an item in a "common sense" to-do list of liquor policy reforms.
The move, effective immediately, allows customers to bring wine into restaurants in exchange for a corkage fee, which establishments can set on their own but will likely fall in the $5 to $25 range. It brings B.C. in line with other provinces, including Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.
The Energy and Mines Minister, who is also in charge of liquor branch policy, said his next priority is to allow wineries and beer producers to sell their products in their own restaurants – something now banned under so-called tied-house restriction. "It's a silly old rule. Its date passed a long time ago," he said in an interview.
Mr. Coleman said he is working on recommendations to get rid of various rules through cabinet as opposed to the legislature for the sake of speed, all part of a government effort to give consumers more choice. He would not be specific, but said the reforms would touch on such issues as trade practices – defined by industry as the relationship between suppliers and customers – and the streamlining of the application process changing licences.
"There are still some old rules – things where I think we can do better," he said.
"You'll see my answers pretty soon on all of this stuff. I think you'll see some significant changes coming through into the fall."
He denied the agenda is a distraction from a controversy over a proposal to privatize the liquor distribution branch, saying it is instead a long-standing drive to change things for the benefit of consumers.
Maurine Karagianis, the NDP's liquor distribution branch critic, said the new wine policy – though overdue – will help a restaurant sector that has been hit by the harmonized sales tax. As for the rest of Mr. Coleman's to-do list: "I'll wait to judge his common-sense offerings when I see them."
Ian Tostenson, president and chief executive officer of the British Columbia Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said he welcomed the move on wine and the government's overall push for reform.
"Philosophically, the restaurant industry would favour less regulation than more."
He said his association is not expecting an overwhelming impact from the new wine rules, based on what has happened in other jurisdictions. At best, he said, it might have a 2-per-cent lift on revenues for the industry.
Chris Parry, who co-owns The Fray in Vancouver, was quick to support the move, figuring it will draw more wine lovers who are unwilling to pay typically marked-up prices. The corkage fee at his casual eatery will be $5, Mr. Parry said.
"When you can walk past a liquor store and see a bottle in there for $15, and you go to a restaurant and see it for $38, it's kind of like going to a movie and having to pay $12 for popcorn," he said. "You know you're getting hooped. It's very apparent, and it makes you feel bad. So the next time you feel like going out, it's a consideration: Do I want to get hooped again, or do I stay home and drink my own bottle?"
Jake Skakun, a sommelier at L'Abattoir, said his upscale Gastown restaurant may adopt a corkage fee of about $25.
"I think $25 is fair because it's enough where we're still making enough margin – because people aren't ordering wine off the list, we're still making a bit of money without having to invest in product – and it's sort of a deterrent for people who would normally buy the cheapest bottle they can get their hands on and bring it to the restaurant," he said.