Published in Food/Agribusiness

MLCC streamlines process for bars, restaurants to add outdoor service, offer to-go beer and wine

BY Tuesday, May 19, 2020 06:05pm

Bars and restaurants that want to open outdoor service areas can now take advantage of a streamlined permitting process through the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. 

The MLCC announced today that it had created a new process after seeking input from licensees and others participating in the commission’s Reopening Workgroup. 

Under the new guidelines, the MLCC also would allow an existing Class C liquor license holder to add a Specially Designated Merchant (SDM) license to sell unopened beer and wine for off-premise consumption. It also expedites the process to add additional bars to licensed premises. 

The new process allows a licensee such as a bar, restaurant, or beverage manufacturer with a tasting room to use an outdoor service area immediately after commission approval with no inspection or fee required, Jeannie Vogel, public information officer at the MLCC, said in an email to MiBiz. 

Adding a bar requires a $70 inspection fee and a $350 fee for each bar, while adding an SDM license also requires a $70 inspection fee and a $100 license fee. The fees are required by state statute, Vogel said.

The streamlined process for adding the SDM license or an additional bar “took about a five-page form down to just what is needed for this situation and they are now approximately one-two pages,” Vogel said in an email. “Also, all these forms/applications will be expedited as a priority for processing by the MLCC staff.”

The move came as a much-needed win for the state’s embattled bar and restaurant industry, which has been unable to offer in-person service since March 16. 

“This absolutely streamlined the process, which is huge for us,” Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, told MiBiz. He said the association, which represents liquor licensees, worked with MLCC and provided input and recommendations as part of the Reopening Workgroup. 

“I’m so thankful to the commission for doing this,” Ellis said. “This is what we worked with them on, and they’ve stepped up tremendously. They took input from people in the workgroup and clearly staff from Liquor Control knew what we needed and listened to us.” 

Ellis said MLBA would be encouraging all licensees who qualified to apply for the expedited licenses and noted the group would be ready to help any licensee through the process, even nonmembers. 

MLCC Chair Pat Gagliardi said the efforts were aimed at “helping liquor licensees get back to business in a safe and profitable way.”

“This is our top priority right now,” Gagliardi said in a statement. “Licensees brought their needs to the table through a ‘reopening workgroup’ and the Commission took action.”

On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a new executive order that will allow bars and restaurants in the Upper Peninsula and 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula on Friday, May 22 with certain restrictions, including that they limit their occupancy to 50 percent and adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

The new MLCC guidelines would speed approval of new or expanded outdoor service areas, which would be valid from June 1 through Oct. 31. Outdoor service areas must comply with reduced occupancy and mandated social distancing requirements, according to the commission. 

Ellis previously said that MLBA hoped to work with the state and local governments “when it comes to expanding outdoor service areas without all the red tape.”

The new MLCC process still requires outdoor service areas to meet local health department orders or local ordinances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. If the area is on municipal property, including a city sidewalk, the licensee must show written approval from the local government authorizing the use. 

Outdoor service areas are limited to 20,000 square feet or less and cannot be located on a balcony or rooftop, according to the MLCC.

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