The ordinance: Sec. 6-4-37. — General regulations:
“Consumption on the premises licensees shall maintain at least fifty (50) percent of their business volume from the sale of food, private clubs excepted. Food sales shall include all consumable items sold on the premises except alcoholic beverages. The fifty-percent ratio shall be determined on a calendar quarter basis on the monthly report submitted by each licensee. In the event food sales fall below fifty (50) percent of the business volume of the license holder for any two (2) consecutive quarters, then the license holder shall be placed on probation for the next succeeding quarter. At the end of the next succeeding quarter, if food sales have not attained fifty (50) percent of business volume, then the city marshal shall suspend such license in accordance with section 6-4-35. Nothing herein provided shall prevent the city council or the city marshal from suspending or revoking such license for any other violations of this article. Authorized officials of the city may examine the records of businesses licensed hereunder at any reasonable time to ascertain that the requirements of this and other provisions of this article are met.”
When excise sales tax reports filed with Dawson County showed alcohol totaled 51.3 percent of sales at Lorena’s Food and Spirits, the business owner faced severe repercussions.
In fact, owner Lorena Adkins could lose her license to sell alcohol.
Why? A county ordinance requires that eateries draw at least 50 percent of their gross sales from food.
Identical ordinances are on the books in both Gainesville and Hall County, where violations aren’t the norm, officials said.
“It’s not a huge problem. We haven’t had any complaints on anybody in a while,” said City Marshal Debbie Jones.
As city marshal, Jones heads the office that enforces the 50-50 rule. Businesses in the past have faced consequences, such as suspension of liquor license, for violations, Jones said. But violation of the 50-50 rule alone did not initiate such actions.
“We have had to take the action of suspending a liquor license, but there were additional violations to the 50-50 rule,” Jones said.
Downtown Gainesville eatery Monkey Barrel is known for both its pizza and craft beer selection. Owner Albert Reeves said he’s never had an issue complying with the ordinance, although he’s known of business owners who have had to take steps to ensure they fell safely on the right side of 50 percent food sales.
“You sometimes see places that have food specials to bring themselves up to 50 percent,” he said.
But other owners expressed ambivalence with the ordinance, saying a ratio of alcohol to food sales closer to 70-30, or measurement by volume, would be more reasonable to factor in the cost of drinks to food.
Private clubs are exempt from the rule.
Attorney for the county Bill Blalock said the business license office would “probably notify an owner that they need to take corrective action first” before suspending an alcohol license.
Jones noted as well that a warning is given before more severe action is taken.
“If their food volume falls below 50 percent for two consecutive quarters, the business is placed on probation. If by the next quarter, that ratio is not obtained, then the license can be suspended,” Jones said.
Adkins told the Dawson County Board of Commissioners that initial reports showing she may have sold more alcohol than food in 2012 were inaccurate because of “several clerical errors” by the point-of-sale system at her business.
She determined last fall, she said, that her computer system was calculating items such as coffee and energy and soft drinks as alcohol sales since all beverage orders are rung up in the restaurant’s bar.
Reeves noted the importance of including nonalcoholic beverages for compliance with the ordinance.
“When doing the paperwork, that’s important to remember,” he said, pointing out that the monthly form from the city marshal’s office requests that owners note the “prepared foods” revenue total but doesn’t specify nonalcoholic drinks, which can go toward the food sales total as well.
Adkins has until April 22 to submit corrected calculations documenting her sales.