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Virginia: Bill would change food-alcohol ratios for Virginia restaurants

Virginia: Bill would change food-alcohol ratios for Virginia restaurants

Source: The Virginian-Pilot

By Philip Walzer

Dec 31, 2015

Virginia Beach Del. Scott Taylor this week introduced a bill to change the ratio governing food and alcohol sales at Virginia restaurants.

Under the current system, which hasn’t been changed since 1980, food and nonalcoholic drinks must provide at least 45 percent of a restaurant’s total sales. Beer and wine sales are excluded from the calculations.

Taylor’s bill, HB219, would adjust the ratio to require that food and nonalcoholic beverages make up much less of the total – 25 percent.

The law, Taylor said, now discriminates against some Oceanfront restaurants, where people go primarily for drinks over the summer.

“It puts the little guy who maybe doesn’t have a big food operation at a horrible disadvantage,” said Taylor, a Republican. The rules also force restaurants that use higher-end alcohol in their mixed drinks to sell more food.

Sen.-elect Bill DeSteph, another Virginia Beach Republican, said he plans to submit a similar bill. As a delegate last year, DeSteph sponsored a bill to change the ratio. It was passed by the House but died in the Senate.

“The system is old and archaic,” DeSteph said, “and hasn’t been updated in a long time.”

Taylor’s bill also would calculate the ratios using the amounts spent by restaurants on food and drink, not the amounts they charge.

“The state shouldn’t be telling you what you sell something for,” DeSteph said.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, a Democrat from Northern Virginia who helped craft the current law on ratios, said he’ll oppose the bills. He said restaurants already enjoy a big break because they don’t have to include beer and wine sales in their totals.

“If you can’t meet that ratio, you ain’t running a restaurant,” Saslaw said. “You are flat running a bar. If you want saloons in Virginia, say so.”

Taylor said a coalition of Richmond restaurants posed the major stumbling block to DeSteph’s bill last year. DeSteph said he plans to meet with members of that group next week to try to win them over.

Tom Lisk, a lobbyist with the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, predicted there would be other bills seeking to replace the ratio with a required minimum for food sales.