Malcolm Jolley hopes liquor liberalization in Ontario helps now, and stays later…

Barolo producer Barbara Sanderone in the wine cellar at Barberian’s, 2018.

Marcel Morgenstern must be pleased. Yesterday the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario released this bulletin, outlining the conditions that restaurants offering take-out could sell patrons wine and other hard drinks. Morgenstern is the vintner and agent who organized this petition calling for the measure, and he managed to get more than 10,000 people to sign it. In any event, it’s official, you can walk into a restaurant in this province and walk out with a container of food and a bottle of wine.

From a consumer point of view, this can only be good. Reports from BC, where similar measures were adopted to offer some relief to the beleaguered hospitality industry, say the move proved popular and restaurants are offering deep discounts to keep sales going. On Master Sommelier John Szabo’s Instagram feed, at least one sommelier, Krista Oben, suggested her restaurants might adopt a flat fee plus costs model.

From an industry point of view, it can’t hurt, even if it’s a small bandage on a large gushing wound. In the fifteen years that I have covered the hospitality industry I have been consistently struck by its generosity. No other sector is so continuously asked to give up labour and product for good causes, and no other rises to serve them despite the business’ notoriously low margins. The reward for this generosity? Being among the first industries hobbled by the Covid-19 Self-Isolation shut down.

Of course it makes sense to keep people from crowding into restaurants at this time, and we can only hope for the hospitality industry’s sake that the take-out life line isn’t the next thing to go, though we could understand if things get really bad, it might. This is a crisis, and in a crisis new ways of thinking and doing become suddenly possible, like selling take-out liquor. Let’s hope that when the crisis is over, and the restaurateurs and wine makers and importers try and build their businesses back, and we, their customers, begin to enjoy the pleasures of their trade again, that the government and it’s agencies like the AGCO continue to see their role as one of helping and not hindrance. Hospitality people could use, and deserve, a break.