Quebec loosens liquor laws to make it easier for restaurants to serve booze

Restaurants in Quebec could soon be able to serve alcohol without food under changes proposed by the provincial government.

'We've been waiting for this for 20 years,' says restaurant association representative

Maria Bouterakou is server at the Green Spot in Montreal. A new bill would allow clients to consume alcoholic beverages in restaurants without being absolutely required to eat food, as long as the establishment fulfills certain conditions. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Restaurants in Quebec could soon be able to serve alcohol without food under changes proposed by the provincial government.

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux tabled a bill Wednesday that would make it easier to obtain a liquor permit and that would broaden the authorized activities.

Under the legislation, clients would be able to consume alcoholic beverages in a restaurant without necessarily being required to eat something, as long as the establishment fulfils certain conditions.

"What is important here is that the kitchen is operational throughout operating hours," Coiteux said Wednesday.

The old rule, a holdover from the Maurice Duplessis era, meant that establishments were required to serve up something substantial before any liquor.

This led to confusion and, sometimes, attempts to get around the rules by supplying cheap eats.

Louis Stavropoulos, restaurant manager at Greenspot in Montreal's Southwest borough, says he's seen some clients get creative.

"'Can I buy one slice of pickle? Can I buy just one fry?' … They want literally the bare minimum," Stavropoulos said. "We say, 'No, the law is clear.' It's not just what you're putting on the table. It has to be an order of food."

Children on patios till 11 p.m.

Martin Vézina of the Quebec Restaurant Association said the change would simplify things for his members.

"It's a big step to modernize our alcohol system," he said. "We've been waiting for this for 20 years."

If the bill passes, bars would also no longer have to kick out families with children from a patio after 8 p.m. Instead, they could stay and eat until 11 p.m.

Louis Stavropoulos, restaurant manager of Greenspot, says clients often try to get around the law, asking only for alcohol without ordering of food. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Stavropoulos says he's not sure yet if the new proposal, which is part of Bill 170, is a good idea.

"It's a 50-50 shot.…Will it bring in more younger kids and people? Absolutely. But we're a small family business so somebody that comes in and just buys alcohol … it's bringing more business to you, but we like to push food more than alcohol."

People would be able to obtain a liquor licence in Quebec as long as they hold a work permit issued by the federal government allowing them to work in the province.

Training for waiters needed, group says

Bill 170 would also require permit holders to take training on the responsible consumption of alcohol.

For Éduc'alcool, a group that educates people about the safe consumption of alcohol, that doesn't go far enough.

The group says all wait staff should be obligated to take the training, too.

"Forcing only establishment owners or managers to take a random course is like asking only the owners of trucking companies, but not their drivers, to have a driver's licence," said Éduc'alcool director Hubert Sacy.

"By not making it mandatory for all alcohol waiters to undergo credible and recognized training, which is the only effective way to reduce impaired driving, Bill 170 is a deliberate and conscious refusal to consider road safety and public safety," Sacy said in a statement.

With files from Kate McKenna and Canadian Press

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