Mansfield may be joining the ranks of cities and towns that prohibit restaurants without liquor licenses from allowing customers to bring in their own alcoholic beverages to enjoy with meals.
The issue arose in Mansfield last month when a local restaurant owner asked to be allowed to offer customers the “bring your own booze” option and selectmen considered a policy that would allow beer and wine to be brought in to eateries lacking liquor licenses under a BYOB permit.
While several members of the Board of Selectmen were in favor of its adoption earlier this month, they had cooled to the idea by last Wednesday. A formal vote has yet to be taken, but Town Manager Bill Ross agreed, following Wednesday’s discussions, that drinking of alcohol in Mansfield restaurants will probably be limited to establishments with liquor licenses.
Steve Guthrie, owner of Aunt Aleda’s Bakery and Country Kitchen, approached selectmen about BYOB after adding Friday and Saturday night dinners to his breakfast and lunch schedule. In a phone interview last week, Guthrie said he didn’t expect “a major alcohol problem — just couples who want to come out and have their bottle of wine.”
Ross researched the BYOB issue and learned Massachusetts law allows establishments without liquor licenses to offer customers the option of bringing in liquor, unless a community specifically prohibits it. He drafted a policy that would limit carry-in drinks to beer and wine. Restaurants would obtain BYOB permits from the town and adhere to nearly the same requirements as local liquor license holders, providing training to employees and taking responsibility for making certain there were no underage drinkers or intoxicated patrons continuing to drink.
Olivier Kozlowski, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said in an interview he thought most members supported the policy at the board’s Jan. 2 meeting. “To me, it seemed a motion would have gotten the majority of votes,” he said.
But by last Wednesday’s meeting, several selectmen were opposed. Selectman Kevin Moran said the sale of alcohol is “controlled very tightly” for local businesses with liquor licenses. “I don’t think it’s worth forming a sub-class of license,” Moran said. “There are too many layers involved. If you want to have an establishment with alcohol, get a liquor license.”
Selectman George Dentino said he thought the carry-in option would place “undue duress” on restaurant staff, who would have to monitor drinking, and on the town, which would have to police the establishments for compliance. “BYOB is nothing but a problem,” Dentino said.
Selectman Doug Annino initially supported carry-in, but changed his mind after hearing the town still had two liquor licenses available for establishments interested in offering alcohol. “If there are two licenses available, why aren’t we forcing them to get a license?” Annino said.
The number of state-allotted liquor licenses is based on a town’s population. Mansfield, with its population of 23,000, is allotted 29 licenses. All five beer and wine licenses have been taken, but two licenses, allowing the sale of all types of liquor, remain unused.
Towns sometimes consider offering unlicensed restaurants the carry-in option when liquor licenses are either all in use or running low.
But Dentino said he doesn’t agree BYOB is a good option in Mansfield. “I think the town would be better served by applying to the state for more liquor licenses,” he said in an interview.
In Quincy, City Clerk Joseph Shea said the BYOB issue “comes up from time to time.” The city prohibits the practice in its rules and regulations, and it has a full-time liquor officer to make certain that restaurants comply, Shea said.
Plymouth also prohibits BYOB in its regulations. “There was a time when [BYOB] was allowed in town, but then we decided it was something we didn’t want to do, so we put it into the regulations,” said Lisa Johnson, administrative assistant to the town manager.
Ross said he has been told to research whether selectmen have the authority to prohibit BYOB in Mansfield through a policy. He will present his findings when discussion resumes this Wednesday.
While the town has a 1991 bylaw that prohibits people from drinking in public places “unless permitted by law,” Ross said some further measure, such as a policy, is needed to regulate business owners who allow alcohol to be consumed. Selectmen are also looking for a way to penalize violators.