Nfld. & Labrador

Restaurants in N.L. can sell booze with takeout, delivery food

Finance Minister Tom Osborne and the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation CEO Bruce Keating outlined several changes to help businesses, including one that will allow people to order booze in addition to food from restaurants.

NLC will also waive liquor licence fees for 2020-2021

Finance Minister Tom Osborne is talking about local business initiatives, one day after the government released its plan to reopen various aspects of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The province is making legislative changes that will allow restaurants to temporarily sell alcohol with take out and delivery orders. Wineries, breweries and distilleries that serve takeout, curbside pickup and delivery are also included in the change.

The NLC will also waive liquor licence fees for 2020-21 for lounges, bars and restaurants. Businesses that have already paid licensing fees will receive a refund.

The corporation will allow licensees to return unsold products, give them wholesale prices with a five per cent discount, and introduce measures to help craft breweries.

The details were revealed Friday by Finance Minister Tom Osborne and Bruce Keating, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation. 

Keating said the measures will mean a hit of about $1.5 million to $2 million to provincial coffers. 

"We also view it as an investment in the sector," said Keating.

"These measures will give some licensees a little more financial breathing room that they desperately need right now," said Osborne.

Long overdue and appreciated

To allow restaurants to sell alcohol with takeout and delivery, the province will make changes to the Liquor Control Act and the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation Act when the House of Assembly reopens Tuesday. The finance minister anticipates it will take days for the new rules to be in effect once passed by the House and given royal assent.

Meanwhile, Luc Erjavec, Atlantic vice-president of Restaurants Canada, said the changes are good news for an industry hit hard by COVID-19 closures. 

It will help businesses in every single community in the province. So it's great news.- Luc Erjavec

Erjavec said restaurant margins are next to nothing, and he's praising the wholesale prices.

"And the beauty of this is, you know, it will help businesses in every single community in the province. So it's great news," said Erjavec.

While he appreciates the measures, he says they're long overdue.

Craft breweries

For the province's growing craft brewing industry, the NLC will increase its commission reduction, temporarily waive warehousing fees, list new microbrewery products, and enter into agreements with breweries for canning.

Dean Major, "chief beer officer" of Corner Brook's Boomstick Brewing, says some of those initiatives won't apply to them. The brewery has its own canning line, and commission reduction also won't apply to them because they produce more than 1,000 hectolitres of beer. (One hectolitre is equal to 100 litres.)

"One thing that would have been more beneficial would be a graduated scale," said Major.

The pandemic has shut down Boomstick Brewing's tap room and retail shop. (Submitted by Boomstick Brewing Co.)

Boomstick Brewing opened its retail location Feb. 20 and started distributing beer to the NLC on Feb. 28. The pandemic has since shut down their tap room and retail shop.

Major said he's interested in how home delivery will work. Beer home delivery will make craft beer more accessible, he said.

"There are people in smaller communities that don't have access to a wide range of products at their local convenience stores or Liquor Expresses, and they can have access to our product through online sales," he said.

Ferment-on-site businesses will be temporarily allowed to bottle batches of wine and beer set up before the pandemic.

Restaurant owners and others in the industry have been calling for the ability to sell booze to help keep cash flowing into their struggling businesses — pointing to other provinces across Canada that have adopted that measure already. 

The restaurant industry in this province has already taken a massive blow, with at least 10,000 jobs lost since the pandemic.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, first ordered restaurants to operate at 50 per cent capacity on March 18. On March 23, she ordered them to close their dine-in areas. 

The joint public health response committee discussed allowing the sales in advance of the special sitting of the House of Assembly in March. But a Finance Department spokesperson said politicians had to deal at that time with "urgent Issues facing the province."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador