Restaurant and Catering Association 'bewildered' by Qld Bill

The peak industry body representing hospitality businesses has expressed its “disappointment and bewilderment” at the Queensland Government’s changes to rules around takeaway alcohol sales through restaurants and cafés.

Prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, licensed restaurants and cafés have been permitted to sell one opened and one unopened bottle of takeaway wine to adults dining on the premises.

As a COVID-related measure, the Queensland Government permitted takeaway sales of packaged beer, wine, cider and ready-to-drink beverages totalling 2.25 litres, when sold with a takeaway food order.

The proposed Bill will make permanent the permissions to sell takeaway wine but will remove the similar permissions regarding beer.

In a submission to the State Development and Regional Industries Committee, the Restaurant & Catering Association said the announcement “without consultation, makes little sense as to why the sale of beer and RTDs would be removed from the current laws”.

“R&CA’s 2020 Benchmark report indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically and permanently changed the face of the hospitality industry, with takeaway and delivery increasing from 9 per cent of all order pre-pandemic to nearly 30 per cent.”

It said that takeaway liquor has become an important source of revenue for operators hard hit by COVID restrictions.

“The removal of beer and RTDs from the legislation, as well as a cap at only a 1.5 litre bottle of wine, will have a devastating effect on an already hurting industry,” the submission noted.

“As per our previous submission on this matter, R&CA strongly supported following the example of other states such as South Australia and Victoria in introducing permanent laws that allowed takeaway liquor to be sold ancillary to the purchase of a meal and allowing for up to 2.25 litres of liquor to be sold.”

In her First Reading Speech, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman, appeared to recognise the association’s concerns, as well as consumer demand for the COVID measures.

“The Palaszczuk government recognises that consumer preferences are changing and the ability to sell takeaway liquor with takeaway food has assisted restaurants and cafes in what has been an extremely tough time for the hospitality industry,” Fentiman told Parliament.

“Ensuring businesses can increase their revenue by selling takeaway wine with their meals has supported them to keep their doors open and keep Queenslanders employed. Consumers have demanded greater choice and convenience in being able to enjoy a meal with alcoholic beverages at home.”

Despite acknowledging that the provision of a meal with alcohol is a known responsible service of alcohol measure, the Bill removed the ability to continue to sell small quantities of beer with a spokesperson for the Attorney-General saying it was on the basis of some beer’s high alcohol.

“Beer and pre-mixed alcoholic drinks were not included as some of these products can contain a high percentage of alcohol by volume and may lead to the greater potential for alcohol misuse,” the spokesperson advised.

Restaurant and Catering Association CEO Wes Lambert said the association has not seen any evidence to suggest that selling craft beers from restaurants and cafes have had any detrimental impact on the community.

“In fact, it would stand to reason that if craft beer is sold with a substantial meal, the likelihood of responsible drinking would increase.”

Despite several requests to the Attorney-General’s office, the Office of Liquor and Gaming has not supplied any data to support its concerns that beer represented a greater risk than wine or to suggest the temporary measures were being abused.

The Independent Brewer’s Association has advised its Queensland members that it will make a submission as part of the Committee process, with CEO Kylie Lethbridge expressing similar concerns to the Restaurant & Caterers Association.

“It is difficult to understand the exclusion given there is no evidence to back up the claims made about adverse intoxication,” she told members.

“Considering the government has a Craft Beer Strategy in place that commits to supporting the industry, we’re at a bit of a loss as to how this has come about.”

The Bill is currently before the State Development and Regional Industries Committee with the closing date for providing written submission Wednesday 6th October 2021. Hearings will take place on 15th October.

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