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What changes to Gainesville alcohol ordinance could mean for restaurants, customers
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Harvest Kitchen bartender Lindsay Sullivan pours a beer Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, at the South Enota Drive restaurant. A proposed amendment to Gainesville's alcohol ordinance could make alcohol sales on outdoor patio dining easier for non-downtown restaurants. - photo by Scott Rogers

Beer or wine delivered from the grocery store to your home? More opportunities to enjoy a cold beverage on outdoor patios? 

These are some of the possibilities for Gainesville residents, if the city council approves proposed amendments to its alcohol ordinance at its Feb. 2 meeting.

If approved on Feb. 2, what changes in the city’s alcohol ordinance?

  • Outside drinking can be permitted in approved outdoor patios under the condition that all outdoor activities are contained within the patio.

  • Outdoor patio seating permitted in the front entrances of restaurants.

  • Patrons would be permitted samples of alcoholic beverages on the premises of an establishment, as long as it is sold by the establishment.

  • Home delivery of alcoholic beverages are permitted in city limits, as long as they are in accordance with state law.

  • An additional license would not be required for licensed alcohol retailers to deliver alcoholic beverages.

  • Package stores permitted to sell growlers will be allowed to have patios and provide samples in-store.

Outdoor patios, take-home alcohol options helping businesses during pandemic

Operating a restaurant during a pandemic in which six-feet social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal indoor dining has been encouraged by health officials, has been a juggling act.

When first-time restaurant owner Julia Still first opened up the Harvest Kitchen in the middle of a global pandemic last August, she found herself limited to only indoor alcohol sales.

“Under the original city ordinances, we were able to serve alcohol only inside the building or ‘on premises’ is what I believe they called it,” she said. “It has been critical. As a restaurant owner, it is my job to honor local authorities and regulations and it is also my job to honor my guests by providing a safe dining experience.”

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An amendment to Gainesville's alcohol ordinance could make alcohol sales on outdoor patio dining easier for restaurants outside of the downtown dining district. - photo by Scott Rogers

Under the Gainesville alcohol permit Harvest Kitchen, located at 601 S. Enota Drive, wasn’t allowed to sell alcohol outdoors without a permit, Still said, since her business didn’t have an outdoor patio.

Simply put, she said, “It has been difficult to maintain both.”

However, after hosting Ward 3 city council member Zack Thompson at their restaurant this past summer, Thompson inquired about the restaurant's lack of outdoor seating.

“He asked why we didn't have seating outside and we explained why we were unable to,” she said.  By early September, city officials approved Harvest Kitchen to sell outside, and after approval from their neighbors, Harvest Kitchen converted the adjacent sidewalk into a fenced-in dining patio.

Outdoor dining has been a “game-changer,”during the pandemic, Still said. 

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Harvest Kitchen's Lindsay Sullivan cleans a table between customers Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. The South Enota Drive restaurant also has a patio for diners and a proposed amendment to city's alcohol ordinance could make alcohol sales on the outdoor patio dining area easier. - photo by Scott Rogers

Being located in a city constantly evolving its policies on outdoor alcohol consumption and sales, Still believes, is allowing the balance of “keeping customers safe” and “allowing business to continue” possible.

“A city ordinance to allow dining and drinking outdoors makes it possible for me to provide an even safer dine-in option for my guests,” she said. “Its a game-changer, because it allows me to keep my guests safe and my business legal and honoring authority.”

Angela Sheppard, assistant city manager, said that the city’s alcohol ordinance acts as a “working document” that aims to be consistent with both state law and the needs of local restaurants and businesses.”

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A proposed amendment to Gainesville's alcohol ordinance could make alcohol sales for outdoor patio dining easier for restaurants outside of the downtown dining district like Harvest Kitchen on South Enota Drive. - photo by Scott Rogers

On Aug. 2, Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB879, which allows home delivery of beer and wine by convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants, into law.

Sheppard said that the primary change for restaurants will be a greater flexibility regarding the location and access for outdoor dining.

“This is primarily beneficial for restaurants located within multi-tenant buildings, since these restaurants typically only have a front door,” she said.

Loco’s Bar & Grill owner Hudson Wilson said that his Sherwood Plaza resturant’s business model had always catered to a “to-go model” and the state’s leniency on alcohol deliveries has helped meet increased demand due to COVID-19.

“What I’ve noticed (due to the pandemic) has been the increase in to-go orders and decrease of dine-in business,” Wilson said. “What we typically do, is see how the market reacts, and if it becomes something that’s super popular in the community and is legal, then we will adapt and do it.”

The law also permits package liquor stores to sell and deliver beer and wine and now authorizes package liquor stores to operate under 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. alcohol sales on Sundays.

The city last made changes to its city alcohol ordinance in 2018, when council approved area distilleries and growler shops to sell larger sample sizes of beer.