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City officials agree to support Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants
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Sunday alcohol sales at Statesboro restaurants is back on the table after the Alcohol Control Board voted to recommend city council members call for voters to decide the issue. A possible catch? All restaurants seeking to serve booze on Sunday would need to prove at least 75 percent of its gross sales come from food.

            At Tuesday’s joint meeting of the city council and alcohol board, officials were concerned about supporting a referendum on Sunday sales without more accurately defining which Statesboro establishments are truly restaurants.

“I am not in favor of making a recommendation for Sunday sales to council until we take on this battle about what kinds of establishments are licensed,” said ACB member Nancy Waters.

The sentiment was echoed by ACB members Ray Fry and Paul Ferguson.

 “The way we currently define restaurants, I would have a hard time supporting (a referendum) unless we have new definitions,” Ferguson said.

Board members approved recommending that the council call for a referendum on Sunday sales only after a lengthy discussion about criteria that would define what constitutes a restaurant and what criteria would make an establishment a tavern or a bar. As a result, the board created three categories for alcohol license holders.

The first category is restaurants. Restaurants would be required to meet a higher standard of 60 percent food sales and 40 percent alcohol sales – a higher threshold than the current requirement of 50/50, which mirrors state minimums.

According to city attorney Sam Brannen, state law permits only establishments that serve more than 50 percent food may sell alcohol on Sunday. The city does have the discretion to increase the food percentage requirement beyond 50 percent under state law.

The second category, recreational facilities, would be required to have at least 70 percent of their sales from a combination of food and the businesses’ leisure activity. Pool halls and bowling alleys would fit in the classification.

All other establishments would fit in the third category and be classified as bars. Bars would have no food percentage requirement, but would be restricted only to patrons 21 and older at all times.

To allow restaurants to sell alcohol on Sundays, a 75-percent food, 25-percent alcohol split was agreed upon. The compromise was reached after discussion among board members, council members and local restaurant owners about the possibility of setting the food percentage higher, possibly 80/20 or even 90/10.

“That’s what I would say, raise the bar really high – say 80/20 – that would definitely define who’s a restaurant and who’s not,” said Alcohol Control Board member Nate Williams, who also is manager of Applebee’s Restaurant in Statesboro.

Before settling on the 75/25 split, there was lengthy conversation about creating a fourth classification — taverns. In the motion floated by Longhorn Steakhouse manager Rob Hane, a tavern would be required to sell at least 40 percent food and have an age minimum of 18, but would have the option to limit patrons under the age of 21 during certain evenings or events. Hane also is a member of the Alcohol Control Board.

Both Ferguson and Statesboro Police Chief Stan York openly doubted whether owners of establishment classified as tavern would voluntarily restrict patronage to individuals over 21.

The alcohol board also recommended removing a section of the alcohol ordinance that required anyone serving alcohol pass a background check administered by the Statesboro Police Department in conjunction with GBI.

York said server permits originally were requested by alcohol license holders, but the process of obtaining the permits was too slow. He said since license holders no longer want to require serving permits, he would have no problem with eliminating the requirement from the ordinance.

Also, the board recommended changing the penalty structure for alcohol license holders. For a first violation of the alcohol ordinance in a 24-month period, the license holder would receive a warning. A second offense over the same period would result in the loss of happy hour privileges for a six-month period or a two-day suspension of the license for retail establishments like grocery or convenience stores. A third violation would result in a three-day suspension, a fourth violation a 10-day suspension and a fifth violation would result in the alcohol license being suspended.

All of the decisions made by the alcohol board Tuesday are only recommendations to the city council. The council would need to hold public hearings and vote on the recommendations before actual changes to the alcohol ordinance are made. It is unclear when the recommendations would be presented before the city council.