The pop of champagne corks on New Year’s Eve signified more than the end of 2010 in several Tisbury restaurants. It also was the first time the bubbly beverage appeared on menus since voters approved wine and beer sales last April.
The year’s end concluded a short first season for restaurants and inns licensed to sell beer and wine, which started up in July 2010. The overall consensus among town leaders is that it went smoothly, without official complaints or any major problems with non-compliance by restaurant owners and managers.
Over the past several weeks the Tisbury selectmen began a review of beer and wine license renewal applications for 2011, to be issued after December 31.
In discussion at a meeting on November 16, selectman Tristan Israel asked Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan whether there had been any “overt problems.”
“No overt problems,” Chief Hanavan said. “We are monitoring restaurants and they’ve all been very compliant.”
Selectman chairman Jeff Kristal reminded the public to report observed incidents of beer and wine sale infractions in licensed establishments to the police chief or town administrator. The selectmen can’t act on whispered accusations and rumors about violations, Mr. Kristal emphasized.
In a recent phone conversation with The Times, Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee said that the selectmen have relayed complaints to him they heard from a few people in casual conversation, but other than that, he has not received any formal complaints.
“When there were issues that came up, the businesses have been responsive in addressing them,” Mr. Bugbee said.
“Some of them had to do with interpreting the regulations, some of them required some clarification, and some of them required an explanation of paperwork,” he explained, “but there was nothing egregious and nothing that couldn’t be addressed with a quick conversation about what is acceptable and unacceptable under the regulations.”
It is encouraging that the first season of beer and wine went by fairly seamlessly, he added. “With anything new, there’s going to be some level of education that everyone’s going to have to go through, and I think we’ve gone through the toughest part of that process,” Mr. Bugbee said. “Moving forward, I’m hopeful we’ll continue to have beer and wine offered in Tisbury in accordance with the regulations, which is what the voters wanted.”
Echoing Mr. Bugbee, Mr. Hanavan said he has had no official complaints and no specific incidents reported and documented in police records.
“It was just three minor things that seemed to come up,” Chief Hanavan told The Times. “You have to serve alcohol at a table, not at a counter; if there’s a special event, restaurants are supposed to notify the selectmen because that was part of the motion when they originally granted the license; and beer and wine licenses must be posted in a visible place.”
Chief Hanavan added: “Everyone was very cooperative when we went and talked to them, and they want to make sure that it is glitch-free. They’re trying to follow the rules.”
Only restaurants that seat 30 or more are eligible to apply for a beer and wine license. Beer and wine may be ordered with a meal but not with snack foods only, such as potato chips, nuts, pretzels, and wings.
While single servings of soups, side salads, other side dishes or desserts are not considered a meal under Tisbury’s regulations, multiple servings of items such as those to a customer would qualify as a meal. Beer and wine must be served by a waitperson with a meal on solid dinnerware, with flatware. No disposable plates or plastic cutlery are permitted.
The wait staff must order and pick up drinks to deliver to patrons seated at a table. If a restaurant has a bar, beer and wine cannot be served to patrons seated at it.
Tisbury police conducted compliance checks in licensed establishments in October and will do so quarterly, Chief Hanavan said.
“We spoke to the manager who’s listed on the license or the owner; we checked that they have their TIPS [Training for Intervention ProcedureS] certificate, which is a class on alcohol use, we checked that they had their liquor license posted, and that they understand that the beer and wine has to be served at the table, that people have to order it with a meal,” he explained. “It was just sort of a general review, and everyone was great.”
The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) conducts checks about twice a year in which an underage person goes into package stores, bars and restaurants and tries to buy or order alcoholic beverages, Chief Hanavan said.
“And we may have someone from here that is underage that we’ll send in to order a sandwich and a beer, or someone that just tries to order a beer without a meal, and see what happens,” he said. “We are going to do little spot checks that way.”
Pluses for restaurants
Susan Goldstein, co-owner of Zephrus Restaurant in the Mansion House Inn, said the first season of beer and wine sales went well and brought many pluses for the restaurant.
“We have not had any over-drinkers, under-eaters, offensive, inappropriate, or dangerous behavior; mostly, just adults enjoying a glass of beer or wine,” Ms. Goldstein said in response to questions emailed from The Times this week.
She and other restaurant owners say it will take more time to fully gauge financial gains from alcoholic beverage sales, given the combination of a short first season and revenues offset by an initial investment in inventory, equipment, and retrofits for beer and wine service.
However, better tips for wait staff have been one immediate benefit, Ms. Goldstein said.
“Economically, I think it was a quirky summer,” she added. “National statistics indicate that people are eating out less and when they do, spending less. So beer and wine enabled us to continue to serve great food at a reasonable price.”
A beer and wine license also opens up more opportunities for Zephrus to host small business groups and corporate events, especially during the off-season, Ms. Goldstein pointed out.
“We know we lost several great bookings in the past because the attendees did not want to BYOB [bring your own bottle], so now we are actively pursuing that small meeting market,” she said.
Le Grenier Restaurant owner Jean Dupon received a beer and wine license on November 30 and began serving wine in December. He said this week the sale of wine and champagne definitely improved his restaurant’s success on New Year’s Eve 2010, compared to 2009, and he expects to see a big difference on Valentine’s Day, too.
Mr. Dupon said the additional revenue he expects from beer and wine sales makes it possible for him, for the first time, to offer a two-for-one entrée coupon in his newspaper ad, good every day the restaurant is open this winter, except Valentine’s Day.
Since mid-November the Tisbury selectmen reviewed and sent 2011 year-round license renewal applications to the ABCC for approval for Black Dog Tavern, Black Dog Café, Le Grenier, Nicky’s Italian Café, Rocco’s Pizzeria, Waterside Market, and Zephrus.
The selectmen also held public hearings and approved new beer and wine license applications for the Little House Café on State Road and Tropical Restaurant and Bakery at Five Corners and at their meeting on November 30. ABCC approval is pending.
The Saltwater and Blue Canoe restaurants received seasonal licenses effective through November 1 that will require renewal in February.
The end of a long dry spell
The Tisbury Business Association raised the issue of ending the town’s dry status in 2005. After a long legislative process and lengthy public debate at hearings and town meetings, the April 6, 2008, election ballot included a question to authorize the selectmen to grant beer and wine licenses to eligible restaurants and inns.
The question resulted in a tie vote but subsequently failed by two votes in a recount on May 2.
A group of 11 Tisbury voters subsequently filed a petition with the town clerk in January 2009 to start the process again. Voters approved a similar ballot question 881-747 at town elections on April 27, 2010, ending Tisbury’s 180-year history as a dry town.
The selectmen signed the first batch of licenses approved by the ABCC on July 6.
A day later, Zephrus Restaurant and Saltwater Restaurant uncorked the first legal sales of beer and wine in Vineyard Haven.