Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

New wine law getting mixed reviews from Michigan restaurateurs

A visit by a Michigan state representative/pizzeria owner to Chicago prompted a new law that will impact Michigan restaurant owners and is likely to make many customers happy. The Midland representative, Jim Stamas, says that a law that allows customers to bring their own wine has been good for the restaurant industry in the Windy City. Stamas succeeded in getting similar legislation through the Michigan legislature.

The bill, which was signed into law in December, takes effect March 21. It applies only to eateries with liquor licenses and does not require them to have a "Bring Your Own Bottle" option. Restaurants can set requirements such as not allowing customers to bring wine they stock.

Many restaurants prefer not to allow people to bring their own wine because they are able to make a profit by serving it. The new law does allow establishments with a BYOB option to charge a corkage fee to help recover some of their service costs.

Although experts say the new law is good news for Michigan's restaurant industry, restaurant owners so far have been cautious about applauding it. An official with the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association says that losing out on the revenue from wine sales is a major concern. However, one manager of a restaurant known for its wines said that it could be a way for the restaurant to learn about varieties of wine they don't currently stock.

Another restaurateur noted that the option should be "about honoring a special occasion with a special bottle, not a ‘two-buck Chuck' or something you can't find on my wine list." However, it wasn't reported whether establishments will be able to control the type of wine customers bring in beyond not allowing something they serve.

It will be interesting to see if the law has the hoped-for effect on Michigan's restaurant industry and what kind of restrictions restaurant owners place on the BYOB policy. It might be wise for them to consult with their legal team to help ensure that if they do participate, they comply with the law and to try to avoid costly business litigation. While some restaurateurs say they don't want this to be about customers being able to save money on their liquor tab, they may have difficulty telling people they can't bring in a bottle of the wine they found on sale at the grocery store down the street.

Source: Novi Patch, "Not All Michigan Restaurateurs Toasting New ‘BYOB of Wine’ Law" Beth Dalbey, Mar. 17, 2014

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