'We don't have a BYO licence' - rubbish

By Peter Calder

How often have you been told that a restaurant's licence bans it from allowing BYO? Whoever told you that is either ignorant or fibbing. Living's restaurant reviewer, Peter Calder, explains.

There are comparatively few BYO-only restaurants. Photo / Thinkstock
There are comparatively few BYO-only restaurants. Photo / Thinkstock

Let's say that you run a small business selling hardware. A customer comes in wanting a packet of screws. You ask whether she wants a screwdriver to match it. She tells you she's already got a screwdriver.

"I'm sorry," you say, returning the screw packet to the display rack, "but I'm not able to sell screws to somebody who brings their own screwdriver. You can either buy a screwdriver from me or you'll have to go without."

Your shop wouldn't last long and wouldn't deserve to. Yet that exact self-sabotaging behaviour is engaged in every night of the week by a restaurant near you.

We've all had the experience of being told by a waitress that "we are a licensed restaurant; we don't have a BYO licence". But it's rubbish.

"There is a lot of confusion about this," says James Jefferson, the manager of licensing and compliance with the Auckland Council. "But the fact is that Section 7 of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 says that anyone who has an on licence can sell liquor and can [in the words of the act] 'allow the consumption of liquor on the premises'."

What is popularly known as a BYO licence is actually a liquor licence that has been endorsed (under Section 28, if you're interested) to "allow the consumption of liquor in the restaurant by any person who is there for the purpose of dining, if the liquor is brought to the restaurant by that person or any other person dining with that person". It specifically forbids the holder "to sell or supply liquor to any person".

So any restaurant licensed to sell liquor is also permitted to allow customers to bring their own; a restaurant with an endorsed licence may allow the consumption of liquor but may not sell it. (It can also, incidentally, sell food or beverages with liquor in them - think special coffees, desserts with liqueur - if the total liquor content is lower than 14.33 per cent). Jefferson confirms that this is true wherever you are in New Zealand. It's not an Auckland bylaw he administers, but a national statute, so what he says applies in Kaitaia, Christchurch and the Chatham Islands.

None of this means that a restaurant is actually required to let you bring your own liquor (in practice, this means wine, or occasionally beer; cafes aren't in the business of providing a table for groups to do their own tequila slammers). Proprietors are perfectly entitled to set their own policy in the matter and can refuse service on any ground except those specifically mentioned in the Human Rights Act - such as race, gender or sexual orientation. But a restaurant that claims not to be allowed to accept BYO diners is more likely being economical with the truth than ignorant of the law: what they mean is that they want you to buy their wine, which has a healthy profit margin.

Bruce Robertson, the chief executive of Hospitality NZ, describes that assertion as "just your inference", but Jefferson says "that's not an unreasonable inference to draw".

Donna Moody, manager at Tony's Wellesley Street, is refreshingly honest about the matter: "I expect people know they can [accept BYO diners] and won't," she says. "And that's fair enough. It takes away from us. We would rather promote the wines we have because there's no profit for us in allowing BYO and at the end of the day that's why you're in business.

"If someone turns up with a bottle of wine we're not going to say they can't have it. But if people want to duck across the road to Glengarry's, we don't want that."

But likewise some restaurateurs may be confused. A Herald on Sunday staffer watched a (licensed) neighbourhood Thai restaurant turn away three parties of half a dozen one evening because they wanted to drink wine they had brought with them. A restaurant that will sacrifice 18 covers rather than miss out on the profit on a few drinks is either booming or misinterpreting the law.

Restaurants typically charge a "corkage fee" - anachronistically named in these days of screw-tops, perhaps, but intended to cover costs such as glassware. This fee is entirely at the discretion of the establishment, but $5 to $10 a bottle seems typical.

So why wouldn't every establishment just have an (unendorsed) on licence? Well, cost for one thing: the annual fee for an on licence is $793.24 (including GST) and for the endorsed (BYO) on licence only about one sixth of that - $134.93 including GST.

That's hardly big money - a couple of dollars a day for a full licence - but there's more. A member of staff with a manager's certificate (they're $134.93 each) must be on licensed premises at all times. There's an administrative burden and, Jefferson says, the police, who must be notified of every application, will take a closer interest in who you're employing than they would if in a suburban curry house wanting a BYO. And a licensed place has much higher overheads. Money is tied up in liquor supply and storage and bar facilities and equipment. Little wonder they aren't keen on your turning up with a bottle of the supermarket's sauvignon-blanc special.

A trawl through dining-out websites, including the Restaurant Association's own dinefind.co.nz, suggests that most places that are BYO only are Asian restaurants, which tend to be at the cheaper end of the market. But The Beach House in Bucklands Beach is one suburban licensed restaurant that allows diners to bring wine. Manager Jane Tjomuskina says about half her customers take up the option.

"It's popular because there are not that many restaurants around here that do it. Some of the diners come in with whatever's on special at Countdown and that's okay, but there are a lot of customers who do bring a very special wine in."

That special wine will prompt the most upmarket restaurant to bend the rules. Clooney in Freeman's Bay has BYO on Sunday evenings, when typically four tables take up the opportunity. It charges $20 a bottle.

Across town at Antoine's in Parnell they charge $25. Chef and owner Tony Astle says that if someone wants to bring wine "we ask them what it is".

"We're a little bit dictatorial about it, but sometimes people bring in very smart wine and you'd be stupid not to let them. They always buy another bottle anyway."

In most restaurants, though, a sensible proprietor will make a calculated decision. A big party with a bottle or two of wine in hand won't get turned away if they're planning on eating up large and there's a good chance they'll buy a few cocktails or liqueurs. Those that are entirely inflexible may be damaging no one but themselves. And it's worth asking whether they are aware that their "full" licence does not stop them from allowing BYO.

Dimitri Kardula, of Adriatico in Henderson, West Auckland, says he doubts anyone would not know: "They cannot be that ignorant. They would know. They just don't want to allow it.

"But with the climate as it is at the moment, a lot of restaurants might be very tempted to change that."

WHAT YOU FANCY

BYO-only restaurants are actually quite rare: most are suburban and Asian. But there are a few licensed places where customers with their own wine are welcome - or at least accepted.

* Auckland Central: Tony's, 27 Wellesley St. Ph: (09) 373 4196

Wine list $32-$190; corkage $8

* Auckland North: Long Bay Restaurant, Long Bay Regional Park, Torbay. Ph: (09) 473 5436.

Wine list $32.50-$75; corkage $7

* Auckland West: Adriatico, 354 Great North Rd, Henderson. Ph: (09) 836 3666.

Wine list $28-$40; corkage $5

* Auckland East: The Beach House, 47 The Parade, Bucklands Beach. Ph: (09) 533 0408.

Wine list: $43-$260; corkage $8.50

* Hamilton: Sahara Tent, 254 Victoria St. Ph: (07) 834 0409.

Wine list $24-$28; corkage $6

* Tauranga: Somerset Cottage, 30 Bethlehem Rd. Ph: (07) 576 6889.

Wine list $32-$230; corkage $10

* Whangarei: Reva's, 31 Quay Side, Town Basin. Ph: (09) 438 8969.

Wine list $33-$65; corkage $5

- Herald on Sunday

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