Sometimes it's revelatory to see the larger picture, to get a sense of the actual numbers covering an entire area or region. It can help place matters into perspective, giving you a better understanding of how everything interacts and intersects. In my recent researches, I found some fascinating statistics concerning restaurants and liquor licenses in New England, and more specifically Massachusetts. I think these facts contribute to the current discussions on lifting the liquor license cap in Boston.
There are approximately 15,131 eating and drinking places in Massachusetts, almost more than the combined total of the other five New England states. The totals of the other New England states include: Connecticut 7323, Maine 3006, New Hampshire 2926, Rhode Island 2694, and Vermont 1346. The city of Boston has about 4,150 restaurants eating and drinking establishments, which is more than four of the New England States.
Comparatively, Boston has a ton of restaurants which then raises the question, does Boston need still more restaurants? Is there a sufficient market for all of those restaurants, plus more? How many more restaurants should Boston have? Is there an over saturation point, and if so, what is that point?
In Massachusetts, out of 318 communities, there are only 10 communities which currently possess over 100 on-premises liquor licenses. Boston stands at the top of the list with 1033 and second place drops significantly, down to 234 for Worcester. It is interesting to note that Worcester does not have a quota limit on the number of on-premises liquor licenses. Without a quota, the number of licenses is still only about 20% of the number in Boston.
Cambridge comes in third place with 229 licenses while New Bedford stands in fourth place with 150 licenses and Springfield comes in fifth place with 146. Quincy (116), Barnstable (112), Fall River (111), Lowell (107) and Plymouth (103) round out the bottom half of the top ten.
Some people like to point to Cambridge and state that it lacks a quota system so that restaurant owners will flock there as they can't pay the high prices for liquor licenses in Boston. However, that is not a fully accuracte depiction as Cambridge does restrict the number of licenses in certain neighborhoods, though not all. So, if you want an all-liquor license in Harvard Square you might pay $300K-$400K, similar to what you would pay in Boston. Porter Square is a bit cheaper, though an all-liquor license is still going to run you about $200K.
Kendall Square, where a cap basically doesn't exist, is where you will have much better luck getting a license for a less expensive cost. However, there is a current proposal before the License Commission that would double the annual fee for a specific type of liquor license and charge a $5,000 user fee every three years. The specific license at issue is the “no value” license, which cannot be sold or transferred. In addition, it would only affect licenses that were issued after February 28, 2008, to restaurants that have seating of 50 or more. It is unsure whether the proposal will ultimately pass or not.
Rather than removing the cap on liquor licenses in Boston, maybe a more measured approach, as I have previously stated, would be best. Like Cambridge, there are neighborhoods in Boston which would most benefit from additional liquor licenses, while other neighborhoods already have plenty. That also helps protect the economic interests of restaurants with existing liquor licenses. A more measured change would be best for all.