Monday, February 16, 2015

Rant: BYOB In Boston

Wine lovers are excited when they have the opportunity to BYOB (bring your own bottle) to a restaurant. They can bring exactly the wine they want to drink with dinner, a wine that might not be available at their local restaurant. Maybe they have a special wine that isn't even available locally, or an older wine they have been storing away for years. If they bring their own wine, it can also very much cheaper, even considering any corkage fee, than buying a wine at the restaurant, where the wines may be marked up 3-4 times the retail cost. BYOB offers many advantages to wine lovers.

BYOB is currently illegal in Boston but a couple city councilors would like to change that, or at least they want to introduce BYOB to certain neighborhoods in Boston, those which currently lack a vibrant restaurant scene. However, they have already encountered skepticism and resistance from their fellow councilors. Should Boston allow BYOB, and if so, what rules and restrictions should be in place to regulate BYOB?

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Stephen Murphy have co-sponsored the BYOB proposal. To pass, there will need to be a public hearing and then a positive vote from the City Council. Then, Mayor Walsh will need to sign off on it. If the proposal ever passed, the Boston Licensing Board would then create rules to regulate BYOB, such as the amount of any corkage fee.

Initial feedback from some of the other Councilors has not been positive. Councilor Ayanna Pressley and City Council President Bill Lineham have been skeptical of the proposal, offering a litany of objections. Even Mayor Walsh has been skeptical though he is willing to listen. At this time, the proposal has been referred to the Government Operations Committee  and will eventually be brought to a public hearing.

BYOB is available in numerous cities and towns across the country, from some Boston suburbs to areas in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. In fact, Councilors Wu and Murphy have touted the success of BYOB in Philadelphia, hoping to emulate that success in Boston. The objective in Boston isn't to bring BYOB to the entire city, but only certain neighborhoods, where there are few liquor licenses. Thus,areas with lots of liquor licenses, such as the North End and the Seaport, would not face competition from BYOB spots. Areas such as Dorchester and Mattapan would be permitted BYOB, so their existing restaurants with liquor licenses would face some competition. Can licensed restaurants and BYOB restaurant successfully co-exist?

In suburbs such as Stoneham, Wakefield and Woburn, BYOB of wine and beer is permitted in non-licensed restaurants, and there are no corkage fees. The licensed restaurants though seem to be doing well, and selling plenty of alcohol. I have yet to hear of any licensed restaurant closing because they couldn't compete with BYOB spots. And the availability of BYOB hasn't stopped new restaurants from seeking liquor licenses. One of my favorite BYOB spots used to be Kyotoya, a Japanese restaurant in Stoneham, but when the restaurant was sold, the new owners changed it to Shabu Sai, and chose to obtain a liquor license rather than continue with BYOB.

BYOB can enhance a neighborhood's dining scene, giving people an added reason to dine out. Purchasing wine and beer at a restaurant, with high mark-ups, can be expensive, so being able to BYOB can make dining out less expensive. That can lead to people dining out even more, making up for lost revenue from BYOB. However, a BYOB restaurant still needs to have good cuisine as the BYOB aspect alone won't draw in enough people if the food isn't that tasty.

We also need to remember that BYOB is generally only for wine and beer, and not spirits. Licensed restaurants, which can sell spirits, thus have an advantage over BYOB spots, and the popularity of spirits, especially for restaurants with bars, cannot be underestimated. And in the current arguments over BYOB in Boston, there has been little discussion of the advantage of being able to sell spirits in licensed restaurants. This is also why neighborhoods with lots of liquor licenses shouldn't fear BYOB, as their ability to sell spirits still gives them an edge.

Boston needs to give serious consideration to allowing BYOB.

1 comment:

Susan Holaday said...

BYOB makes so much sense- especially for neighborhoods that are underserved currently.