Recently the Atlanta City Counsil attempted a half-hatched plan to increase liquor license fees threefold. The proposal was presented at a council meeting on Tuesday, October 23rd. The proposal would require restaurants to pay a flat rate of $5,000 to include the sale of liquor, wine and beer to paying $5,000 per each type of alcohol served. Thus, a restaurant could theoretically pay $15,000 for the sale of wine, beer and liquor. A multi venue establishment, like the one I work at, which might boast 3 separate bars and would see the increase of fees from $15,000 to $45,000.
In an industry that accounts for 10% of the state GDP and for just under half a million jobs according to the Georgia Restaurant Association, the impacts of such an increase would have wide ranging consequences.
Atlanta boasts a unique culinary landscape that is made up of many small businesses that rest their reputations on the name of a Chef versus a big box restaurant that relies upon a consistent national menu and has the backing of a national corporation. It stands to reason that local owned restaurants and bars that contribute to the tapestry of Atlanta would find it near impossible to come up with $10,000.
In order for most restaurants to afford a drastic increase the burden would be placed upon the consumer. Establishments would need to increase pricing for product in order to bolster their revenue to afford the hike. My experience has shown me how most consumers in the ATL already balk at $11 beers or $13 glasses of wine (which is below standard in most large cities) or a $15 cocktail. It could become a norm for most prices to jump and the industry could then face a backlash from its very customers.
The industry also already deals in practices that puts an intense amount of work and pressure on its workers without the security of a salary or health benefits. This burden could be the difference between a restaurant or bar being able to offer its employees health benefits or a 401k program. Larger establishments would see an increase that essentially is equivalent of a salary and could see the consolidation of a position in order to preserve a financial business model.
No matter how you slice the issue, the Atlanta City Council did not provide sufficient context for the proposal and more than half of the council members seemed confused over the proposed increase. On the day of the meeting more than 100 different restaurant were present to fight. It was posted across social media by local establishments as a rallying cry to the tight knit community here in Atlanta.
I have to ask myself in the face of this sly movement by the City where and how we survive the lack of understanding of what we do as an industry. Our job is to take care of people and provide an experience that transcends the burdens of everyday life. If we become one more industry that must place more of a financial burden on the very guests we aim to care for then that is the day we have lost. Our industry exists to create an equalizing experience for every person who sits to enjoy our craft, no matter their position in life. I can only hope that the City Counsel of Atlanta realizes the value of this before they vote to send a chasm through our community and industry.