Some P.E.I. restaurants can now sell liquor with takeout orders

A policy change means restaurants with the appropriate licence may sell unopened alcohol with orders that are picked up by customers.

The policy change, which applies to restaurants with a specific licence, took effect Thursday

The Gahan House in Charlottetown was able to offer beer with its takeout food before the changes because it has a brewer's licence. Now other restaurants will be able to do the same. (Al Douglas)

Some P.E.I. restaurants will now be allowed to sell alcohol with orders that are picked up by customers.

The P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission published a notice Thursday evening alerting those in the industry of the changes to its policy.

Effective immediately, restaurants that have a Package Sales Licence can sell unopened liquor, including beer, wine and spirits, to customers that order a meal for take out. 

The changes do not apply to delivery orders.

Luc Erjavec, the vice-president Atlantic with Restaurants Canada, said Friday the move is one that many in the industry on P.E.I. are thankful for. 

"Already this morning I've heard from a couple of restaurateurs who have said, you know this is great news and will allow me to continue to operate or maybe be able to bring an employee back," Erjavec said.

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He said sales in the food service industry are down by at least 80 per cent on P.E.I. and many businesses are closed due to the pandemic.  

"Is it a magic bullet? No, but it is great, one more step along with all the others that government has taken that will allow us to hopefully get to the other side of this catastrophe."

Limits to alcohol sales

A number of other provinces have changed their rules to allow licensed restaurants to sell liquor with takeout meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Erjavec said P.E.I. is now among eight provinces — including Ontario and Nova Scotia — that made a similar change recently.

Some, like Nova Scotia, have conditions that the cost of alcohol not be more than three times the value of food ordered.

On P.E.I., alcohol can only be sold along with the order of a food item from the menu that has been approved by the liquor commission — which does not include "finger foods" like salsa, french fries, chips or pretzels. 

People will be allowed to purchase a maximum of two 750 millilitre bottles of wine or two bottles of spirits, or up to 12 cans of beer per order.

'Any little bit helps'

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison ordered restaurants on the Island to close their dining rooms in mid-March. Many restaurants simply closed but a few have remained open, offering pickup, curbside delivery or home delivery.

Jeff Sinnott is an owner with Red Island Hospitality Group, which runs four restaurants including Hunter's Ale House, The Factory Downtown and John Brown Grille. He said the company has had to lay off more than 100 people due to shutdowns related to COVID-19.

"We've been selling quite a bit of takeout food … so having customers being able to add alcohol to the food purchases is a little bit of extra sales for sure," Sinnott said.

"It's not going to be a huge increase, but any increase is a help right now."

He said it also allows the restaurant to turn over some inventory that until now was sitting in storage.

Brett Hogan, who co-owns Hop Yard in Charlottetown, said the change also means more convenience for customers.

"We're more of a one-stop shop now," he said. "This kind of means that you call in, order it, we'll have everything ready for you, one stop and you're home a lot quicker."

He said his restaurant can now offer some of its food and drink deals again.

Hogan said his restaurant also had to lay off several people, but takeout orders allow his restaurant to earn enough money to keep three to four people on the payroll. He said he hopes liquor sales allow him to maintain that payroll.

Way to employ more people

In addition to the revenue boost, Erjavec and Sinnott said the liquor sales could also help alleviate long lineups at liquor and agency stores. Erjavec pointed out the restaurants are already licensed and staff are trained to sell liquor responsibly.

Brett Hogan, who co-owns Hop Yard in Charlottetown says his restaurant can now offer some of its food and drink deals again. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

He said Restaurants Canada had discussions with the P.E.I. government and the liquor commission about making the change. 

"We worked within the existing rules and regulations and I'm happy we were able to move this forward," he said.

Erjavec said Restaurants Canada plans to continue its discussions with government to see if alcohol purchases could also be included within delivery orders in the future.

"The whole goal is to keep people employed, businesses open because you know the restaurant owner or the person who works at the restaurant is your neighbour," he said. "So it's really important to keep these industries going." 

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