British Columbia

Restaurants call for wholesale pricing, cheaper booze in B.C.

Industry group says rules forcing restaurants to pay retail prices for liquor in B.C. is unfair and bad for business.

Industry group says B.C. restaurants shouldn't have to pay retail for liquor

B.C. restaurant and bar owners want the same treatment as private liquor stores which are allowed to buy beer, wine and spirits at wholesale prices. (CBC)

An industry group claims B.C. restaurateurs and bar owners are being treated unfairly by the province because outdated regulations force them to buy booze at retail prices from the government liquor distribution branch.

In a "report card" on provincial liquor policies called "Raise the Bar," Restaurants Canada said 72 per cent of B.C. restaurant owners believe the cost of liquor hinders their business.

"Beautiful British Columbia is not so beautiful when it comes to its liquor prices," the report states. "For example, private retail stores can buy beverage alcohol at wholesale prices, but bar and restaurant owners can't."

"It's very frustrating," said Mark von Schellwitz, V.P. of Western Canada for Restaurants Canada. "The government introduced some new wholesale pricing earlier this year but one of the largest liquor wholesalers — the hospitality industry — was completely excluded."

Restaurant customers frequently complain about the high cost of liquor without realizing "that we pay the same price that they do for liquor products," said von Schellwitz.

Changes coming, says government

The B.C. government hasn't promised to offer restaurants wholesale pricing, but the minister responsible said an update to the new liquor policies is coming by the end of the year.

"We are out there in the marketplace to see how the marketplace responds," said Coralee Oakes, the minister responsible for the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

"We are open to having dialogue, we are trying to figure out how to make our small businesses successful."

NDP critic David Eby says the new rules, introduced April 1, have driven up prices that could run restaurants out of business. 

"I think anyone that goes into the restaurant business is fighting an uphill battle. The last thing they need is to be hit with a price increase on such a critical driver which is alcohol prices."

C+ overall for B.C. policy

Despite the complaints, Restaurants Canada gave British Columbia a C+ grade for overall liquor policy, saying, "British Columbia deserves credit for modernizing and streamlining liquor laws." 

Alberta received the highest grade in the Raise the Bar report — a B+ — while Newfoundland and Labrador received an F.

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With files from Richard Zussman and Dan Burritt

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