Raise a glass to Michelle Wu and Stephen Murphy, the two city councilors who have proposed legalizing bring-your-own-bottle restaurants in some neighborhoods of Boston. State law allows municipalities to set their own BYOB guidelines, and many parts of Greater Boston, including Winthrop, Needham, and Brookline, already give restaurants the option to allow diners to bring their choice of alcoholic beverages. Boston, however, bans it completely. But BYOB is good for customers, letting them choose their drinks from a wider and cheaper selection, and good for economic growth, making it more feasible for entrepreneurs to open new restaurants even if they can’t get one of the city’s limited number of liquor licenses. The rest of the council and Mayor Martin Walsh should get behind the proposal.
Economic impact is the motivating force behind Wu and Murphy’s plan, which the council expects to consider this week. One of the unintended consequences of the existing limit on licenses is that many of those licenses have moved out of the neighborhoods and into lucrative downtown locations. Most restaurants need to serve alcohol to be viable, and the migration of liquor licenses in Boston has left swaths of the city with few sit-down restaurants. That has far-reaching effects; restaurants are social and economic anchors, and the dearth of restaurants can put neighborhoods at a disadvantage. Allowing BYOB restaurants to open in those neighborhoods would at least make it more viable for them to stay open for dinner. “We’re trying to make our business districts more successful. The more successful a business district, the more successful a neighborhood,” Murphy told the Globe.
Whatever the ultimate economic impact of a BYOB policy, by creating new options, the Wu and Murphy proposal would clearly be a win for consumers. And that’s who city officials should be looking out for first. Walsh says he is open to the idea of allowing BYOB in some parts of Boston, but also wanted to recognize the investments restaurateurs have made in liquor licenses. He needn’t lose much sleep over them, though; a restaurant with a full liquor license would continue to have an advantage over a BYOB restaurant that opens down the street. Regardless, it’s not Walsh’s job to protect the value of restaurant owners’ or anyone else’s speculative investments. Liberalizing the city’s liquor policy would be good for residents, and that ought to be enough for the mayor and the council.