When a competitive field widens, some business owners see opportunities. Others see disaster, and try to turn back the clock. But progress is hard to stop, as some Maui restaurateurs found on Wednesday when the Maui County Liquor Control Commission denied an appeal to their March 2012 law allowing corkage (BYOB) in Maui restaurants.
The law, which I also wrote about here, brings county law into alignment with all other state counties by allowing customers to bring a bottle of wine into restaurants. Fearing a profit loss, representatives from several Maui eateries sent a letter to the Commission requesting an appeal. Then 400 petitions were sent in by Maui residents formally asking for an appeal. The Commission revisited the matter in their August 8 meeting.
According to this article in the The Maui News, the Commission denied the petition by default. Their rules require a majority vote to either deny or accept petitions; the vote was three to allow and four to deny. The other two votes belonged to commissioners who were absent from this meeting. Without a majority of five votes, the resolution was denied by default.
According to the article in The Maui News, opponents of the new law showed up (again) to support the appeal, and some were shocked that it was defeated, given how vocal they and their servers and sommeliers have been. Bev Gannon, owner of Hali’imaile General Store, Joe’s Bar & Grill, and Gannon’s, who has been very open about her opposition, is quoted saying:
“I’m getting beat up by people saying I’m greedy and I want this and I want that. No, I want to keep my doors open,” Gannon said.
Surely, businesses generally do not appreciate stiffer competition — just as no restaurant likes receiving a less-than-glowing-review from us in Top Maui Restaurants. And yes, it’s true: now restaurants that choose to offer corkage to their customers (like Mama’s Fish House and Merriman’s) have a little advantage over those that insist the customer shop from their house wine list.
Having spent over $157,000 (at last count — I didn’t even bother to tally up last year’s expenditures) at Maui restaurants in order to write Top Maui Restaurants over the years, I’m testifying, right now, right here, that many Maui restaurants should worry less about corkage and more about how they stack up to their competitors when it comes to food. More — much more — energy should be spent on determining whether customers are getting a good meal at a fair price. Yikes.
(Some Maui restaurants do; others don’t. To find out what we think about all of these restaurants and many more, get a copy of or download Top Maui Restaurants — the only independent review of Maui’s tourist-driven restaurant scene.)
In any case, the complaining restaurateurs were not able to put the cork back in the bottle. With a possible future exception for hotels catering large events, restaurants are still free to offer their patrons BYOB privileges. Note to the MCLCC: instead of specifically excluding hotels from the law, consider just limiting the number of bottles customers are allowed to bring.
Corkage is a good thing for customers, which, will end up being a good thing for restaurants who take advantage of this opportunity to be nice to their very few customers who would like to bring their own libation. As Karen Christenson of Mama’s Fish House — an accomplished restaurateur who has certainly garnered some really great PR about this issue — testified:
“On the financial side, we are collecting a $35 corkage fee, which our customers are happy to pay for the privilege of bringing their own wine,” she said. “This is about the same profit we would make on our lower tier wines, and we didn’t have to order, receive, store or stock this bottle. . . . The law as written gives us the option.”
I didn’t expect the appeal to die so quickly — I expected the political machine to prolong the process. But in this case, Maui County officials have made a good call. Even if it was just deciding to play hooky on the day of the meeting.