Bar owners furious over new licensing fees

Bars and restaurants say new NLC fees are nothing more than a tax grab, and one that comes with a threat of closure.
Pub owner Brenda O'Reilly says the NLC's new licensing fees will hurt many small businesses. (CBC )

Bars and restaurants in Newfoundland and Labrador say new fees from the Crown liquor corporation are nothing more than a tax grab, and one that comes with a threat of closure.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says the fees include a charge of as much as $1,700 to obtain a liquor licence, and come with late penalties that kick in by the end of this month.

The NLC will also charge establishments an extra $100 to serve booze on a patio and applications fees of as much as $200.

Brenda O'Reilly, who owns O'Reilly's Irish Newfoundland Pub and the Yellowbelly restaurant and bar on George Street in downtown St. John's, said the fees will hurt many businesses, especially because the tight deadline will not allow bars time to adjust their prices.

"The only two things I can control are my product that I buy and my labour that I employ," she told CBC News.

"If people keep putting extra charges on my product that I buy and this is that kind of a cost, then of course if you got to find cuts, you will maximize your labour, or you will cut some jobs."

The NLC says companies that do not pay the fees by the end of June will likely lose their operating licence.

O'Reilly, the provincial director of the CRFA, said the cost of going out will inevitably become more expensive, and that will have broader implications.

"We're still one of those luxury items," she said. "We compete with the liquor store for personal consumption. They can stay at home and drink or they can come out to an establishment that creates jobs and has a spinoff business."

Bars should be okay, NLC head says

NLC president and CEO Steve Winter said the fees are reasonable. 

"We're the only province in the country that doesn't charge licencees for their liquor licences," he told CBC News. "Nowhere else in the country does anybody not pay for their liquor licence."

Winter said bars should be able to recoup the fees by raising the cost of each drink by a few cents.

"It's a pretty simple matter, as far as we're concerned," he said.

Winter said the fees, even when implemented, will only cover the half of the $2-million cost at the NLC for running liquor licences.