When will more NJ restaurants be allowed to serve alcohol?
Ever since prohibition was lifted in 1933, New Jersey has maintained some of the most restrictive alcoholic beverage license laws in the nation.
As a result, getting a license to serve alcoholic beverages in a restaurant in the Garden State is not only extremely difficult, it’s also very expensive.
In some parts of the Garden State, having the opportunity to purchase a license to serve alcoholic beverages may cost upwards of $1 million.
In recent years, efforts have been made to change state law and allow for the creation of lower-priced special liquor licenses that would give smaller restaurants the chance to serve beer and wine, but the issue has been quite contentious and to date all proposed legislation has stalled.
But with the restaurant industry facing a series of recent unprecedented crises, first from COVID and then from labor shortages, supply chain issues and dramatic ongoing price increases because of inflation, the issue of who should be allowed to have what kind of alcoholic beverage license has again come into sharp focus.
New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association President Dana Lancellotti said many smaller restaurants that are fighting for survival are in favor of some kind of restricted alcoholic beverage license scenario, while most restaurant owners that already have purchased an alcoholic beverage license, paying a small fortune for it, oppose this kind of expansion.
“New Jersey’s got some difficulties when it comes to liquor licenses that other states do not have to contend with. It’s a very complex issue and it’s an extremely emotional issue,” she said.
On Monday, the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association held a special town hall to educate everyone about the issue and foster dialogue.
“We are not taking a position on this right now,” said Lancellotti, “we’re learning, from listening to each other’s viewpoints and understanding other positions on this very complicated topic.”
She said unfortunately there is no quick fix that everybody will be satisfied with.
“There’s no one who doesn’t agree that this is a mess and that the system needs to be improved," she said.
She stressed this can’t happen overnight, or even in the coming months because those who already have liquor licenses paid huge sums of money for them “so you’re literally taking something that has a value of say $750 thousand, and then you are decreasing that value in a heartbeat, so there’s a lot at stake.”
She also pointed out as efforts to promote tourism in New Jersey have moved forward, the issue has become even more complex.
Lancellotti noted wineries have been allowed to serve the different varieties of wine they produce along with certain types of food while breweries have clamored for the right to have more than tastings at their locations, and while BYOB restaurants are allowed to permit diners to bring in their own alcoholic beverages, some charge a fee to open a bottle of wine.
What’s the next step?
She said “we really want to talk more, we just want to have more conversation and dig in and find some way that we can make this work for everybody.”
Legislation introduced earlier this year, S350 sponsored by state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, calls for the establishment of restricted alcoholic beverage licenses that would allow the licensee to sell beer, wine and cider by the glass on the premises of a restaurant with a full-service kitchen, when food was served at a table.
The measure would also provide a series of tax credits to restaurants that already possess alcoholic beverage licenses, to compensate license holders for the expected loss in value resulting from the creation of the new restricted licenses.