A group of bars is trying really hard to make drink take-out a reality. The New Association of Bars of Quebec (NABQ) and its partners want to sell alcohol with take-out meals but are facing many challenges. Since the start of the pandemic, Montreal bars have been trying to find a solution for lost profits and are so far unsuccessful in their effort. According to the NABQ, it's bureaucracy that's preventing bars from serving alcohol with take-out meals — which it says could spell doom for many businesses in the province. 

Founder of NABQ and co-owner of Taverne Saint-Sacrament, Pierre Thibault, tells MTL Blog that the Quebec government hasn't responded to the organization's requests to temporarily amend Bill 170, which currently restricts bars from offering alcohol with take-out meals. 

"We are sick and stressed by this situation," Thibault said. 

The Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux (RACJ) told MTL Blog, however, that "a legislative amendment would be required to amend the Liquor Licence Act," which regulates liquor permits, to allow bars to have take-out drink service with food.

But as businesses gradually reopen across the province and restaurants continue to offer take-out options, bars across the province feel like they are being forgotten. 

MTL Blog spoke with Thibault to find out more about the NABQ's desire to reopen bars and serve alcohol with take-out meals.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

Overall, what percentage of profit losses are Quebec bars facing during the pandemic?

 

The answer is simple: 100% lost profit for bars that do not have the option of catering to takeout. As for the bars which have kitchens and have turned to take-out, the gross sales are between 20% and 30% in the best scenarios. This is clearly insufficient to operate in the long term.

How long would you anticipate needing to provide take-out service?

It's a temporary way of doing business, not a long-term solution. The question is how the owners of our buildings will ask us for rent knowing that we only drive 25% of our turnover.

If they claim 100% of the rent, we do all this work for absolutely nothing. We're going to have the main lines of the commercial rent assistance program set up by the federal government this week. It will be a good indicator of whether or not we can continue to offer take-out.

 

What do you believe is making the government hesitate to approve your requests?

The real problem for us now, is that the RACJ prohibits the sale of alcohol with meals even if we have bar permits with the Ministère de l'Agriculture et de l'Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) for our restaurants.

In addition, we have certificates of occupation from our cities as a bar and restaurant but despite all these confirmations that we are indeed restaurant bars, the RACJ prohibits the sale of alcohol because we do not have the required restaurant permit.

The Quebec government has been aware of our requests for more than a month and nothing is moving. It's very frustrating. We are simply asking for the same permission as the restaurants, which can sell alcohol with their take-out meals.

It's ridiculous. Now, many are thinking of a permanent closure of their bars, bistros, pubs, taverns, wine bars, and the like. 

First, we would have to proceed with a ministerial decree to temporarily amend Bill 170 to allow us to sell alcohol with meals. For the moment, the Minister of Public Security, Ms. Geneviève Guilbault, refuses to make this decree and we are therefore in an absurd bureaucratic and political impasse.


"Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, and other large cities have granted this right in less than a week to bars and they have saved several businesses from bankruptcy," Thibault explains.

"Here, nothing is moving and the government seems to ignore the urgency of the situation."

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