As we reported earlier this year, Natick is reviewing its alcoholic beverage licensing policies with an eye toward updating them to address evolving lifestyle habits and business demands. The Select Board this week received an update on that review, and everything from current alcoholic beverage revenue ratios and minimum seating requirements for establishments to allowing BYOB at restaurants without a license is on the table.
The status of the review report includes a table outlining current rules and proposed changes for numerous license types that would give the town more leeway to adapt to new opportunities, and reap the benefits of additional option taxes.
Select Board Chair Paul Joseph, a member of the small working group reviewing the rules, said the hope is to make Natick more agile and progressive when it comes to considering new business models that involve alcoholic beverage licenses. So far this year the team has met monthly, informally surveyed the public (about three quarters of 149 respondents said they were disatisfied or very disatisfied with current rules regulating alcoholic beverages in town), reached out to businesses, and collected information on safety and health related to alcohol use and abuse.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the community about some of the rules and regulations that have restricted or basically cost opportunities for the town,” Joseph said during the May 18 Select Board meeting. “We’ve had potential restaurant owners and pub owners consider Natick but because of certain rules that we have in place they chosen to land their businesses elsewhere.”
Among the issues of concern is a requirement that not more than 35% of revenue for licensed establishments come from sales of alcoholic beverages. Joseph said the rules were put in place to control consumption of alcohol in relationship to that of food, but the math doesn’t always work out, as places with expensive wine lists would quickly cross the 35% threshold.
The team has recommended ditching such a requirement.
Another rule up for debate is that requiring an establishment have at least 100 seats to qualify for an all-alcohol license and have at least 15 seats for a beer and wine license. Eliminating such rules would give the town and businesses more flexibility, something that’s proven to be needed since the pandemic began. New business models have emerged nearby, such as in Framingham, where breweries partner with food trucks to serve patrons. Another possibility could be allowing a golf course like Sassamon Trace to have a beer cart.
Wellesley has eased its seating restrictions, and now has attracted the likes of Laughing Monk Cafe, a new 20-seat restaurant that’s allowed to serve alcohol. Indeed, Natick is looking closely at such moves made by other communities.
“Rather than restrict through this bylaw some arbitrary numbers that will dictate the footprint of a service venue, we felt it was better to allow that flexibility and let the opportunities present themselves and then debate them in a public forum as we always would before considering issuing a permit,” Joseph said, who noted a trend toward smaller retail spaces becoming available.
While this might sound as though Natick might soon change its name to Miami Beach, Joseph said along with more flexible licensing policies might come the embedding into the town’s rules and regulations stricter policies around violations, including escalating penalties. Security cameras could be required in consumption areas as well, and more flexible bartender and staff training could be allowed (online as well as in person).
New opportunities for permits or new latitude for operators “comes with it additional and very clear responsibility,” Joseph said during the Select Board briefing.
Joseph is optimistic that changes could be adopted by the Board as soon as this summer.
Separately, Town Administrator Jamie Errickson noted that Natick has gained an off-premises full alcohol license due to its increased population per the last census (so the town’s allotment rises to eight). The town is figuring out what the process will be to dole that out.
Errickson said the town has also learned of late it has seven malt (beer) & wine off-premises licenses available for issuance. It is looking to come up with a fair process by which to make its various alcohol licenses available.
Students visit local booze sellers armed with orange safety stickers
Speaking of responsibility…
Natick Above the Influence, a youth group of the town’s Natick 180 Coalition, recently visited local alcohol retail outlets to place 2,000 stickers on cases of beer and other alcohol products that say, “Natick youth want to remind you that it is ILLEGAL to buy alcohol for minors. Only 21+.”
This took place at the start of prom and graduation season in hopes of encouraging adults not to provide alcohol to those who are under age.
Austin Liquors Too, Dion’s, Natick Wine & Spirits, Nine East Emporium, Town Line Liquors, and Wegmans Natick all took part in this year’s campaign to reduce underage drinking.