Local bar owners support free alcohol glassware bill
“You broke it. You bought it.”
That’s the rule Florida bar owners and their servers have lived by since the end of Prohibition when it comes to broken glassware — a cost of doing business that amounts to an annual tab of between $1,500 and $2,000 for each owner, according to the Tallahassee Bar & Hospitality Association.
That’s why local bar owners support a bill that would allow bars and restaurants to receive free branded glassware from beer and malt beverage distributors — a position that pits them against at least one major brewery.
“Glassware is a significant cost driver to my small business, especially when taking breakage and theft into account,” Mike Ferrara, owner of Cabos Island Grill and Bar in Tallahassee, said in a prepared statement.
It would be too expensive to buy the different types of glassware for each type of beer served at Cabo’s, he said.
HB 853, by Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Merritt Island, would give Ferrera and other small bar owners an opportunity to get free glassware for the different beers they sell, up to three cases of 24 pieces of glassware for up to three malt beverage brands – or about 216 pieces of glassware a year.
Under the current “Tied House Evil Law,” bars and restaurants must buy branded glassware from distributors, brewers and wholesalers at cost. The 1935 statute was meant to cure a problem of establishments or "tied houses" that served only from one particular brewery. The premise behind the law is to prevent producers or distributors of alcohol from having a financial interest in or giving gifts to any establishment that sells their alcohol.
The measure passed out of the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee Tuesday morning with a 10-4 vote. Its next stop is the House Commerce Committee.
A Senate version, SB 1040 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, was unanimously approved by the Regulated Industries Committee last week and is now before Commerce and Tourism Committee. His bill would allow bar and restaurant owners to get up to five free cases of branded glassware per brand per year.
Ferrara was among a dozen local bar owners who signed a letter in support of the measure. Other bar owners include Scott Carswell of the Moon, Tarek Habib of Primetime, Jeremy Matlow of Gaines Street Pies, Shannon Moore of Fifth & Thomas, Jim Smith of Poor Pauls, Jamie Christoff of the Wine Loft, and Costa Vathis of Fox & Stag.
The letter was signed by 79 bars across the state, said Max Herrle, executive director of the Tallahassee Bar and Hospitality Industry.
The bill is being pushed by Anheuser Busch InBev, but other powerful interests are arrayed against the legislation.
“We think it’s a terrible bill and we are opposed to it,” said Eric Criss, president of the Beer Distributors of Florida. The company represents distributors of MillerCoors and other brands including Heineken and Guinness, big craft brewers including Sam Adams and Stone, and several state craft brewers like Cigar City, Intuition and Swamp Head.
The bill has the potential to make bars and restaurants more beholden to brewers, which is what the law on the books is supposed to prevent, he asserted.
And it's unenforceable because the state doesn't have the resources to audit the thousands of retail outlets in Florida, Criss said.
Bar owners should accept glassware cost of doing business.
"Who doesn't want free stuff?" Criss said.
The bill also gives big breweries like ABI an unfair advantage because of their dominance of the beer market and ability to pump out more glassware than its competitors, said Josh Aubuchon, representing the Florida Brewers Guild.
Smaller craft breweries can't keep pace with the output of the larger companies, he said.
It's all about economy of scale, Aubuchon said. "It's an arms race we can't compete with."