Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Would Everyone Please Stop Chewing On Unicard?

Many people who hear the word "Unicard" think the whole alcohol sales/club membership issue revolves around having a gold (well mine is anyhow) Unicard in their wallet or purse.  It has nothing to do with this at all.   State law mandates that people who drink in a non-wet area join a club formed by the restaurant, Unicard provides a record-keeping service to these neighborhood spots that want to serve a frozen margarita or glass of wine, respectably and legally.  The Unicard facilitates the transfer of information - in other words it substitutes for your drivers' license, keeping your information private from the server.  In fact, the costs for a restaurant to utilize Unicard to maintain it's membership records is much, much less than doing the recordkeeping in-house.  It's other things that the current law cost the restaurant, guests and taxpayers much more money that gets me cooking.

When we opened Sevy's Grill almost 13 years ago, we utilized pre-lawyer Janet Ivy to assist in filing the voluminous amounts of paperwork needed for the application for a license to serve alcohol.  Her father, David Ivy Sr, sat in his office with Sevy and I to go over the services that Unicard offered and how it could keep us in compliance.  He founded and owned this very large service corporation, yet had the time to sit with us and explain things - people don't forget that kind of attention.   I can't speak to how well other services compare, we've never considered switching to anyone else.

But let's face it, the time of requiring people to sign up to drink in a spot has become too costly to maintain in a state that's seen a drastic change in it's demographics since it's Alcoholic Beverage Code was written over 60 years ago.   More and more clubs means more and more records that the TABC sends agents to review, we have to decide if our tax resources are better spent keeping habitual drunk drivers off of the road.  As long as the law mandates membership, the TABC agents are hired, devoted to the task of verification.  Because it is the law.   They even go out and do undercover "stings" to see if clubs are following the membership laws - fines are very, very high for failure to do so.

A much higher cost, born by the restaurant and it's guests, is the restriction from "clubs" being able to purchase their alcohol from a wholesale seller.  Because it must pass through an additional seller, the cost of product is significantly higher for a business located in a dry part of town.  The consumer, unknowing of this restriction is left with the perception that the business is more expensive, when they may be only trying to cover their higher costs. 

The most salient reason for changing current law is because our suburban neighbors have already done so.  It has not brought havoc or destruction to their neighborhoods, in fact it may have been partially the reason for a bar to close down in Plano.   But if Dallas fails to do so, there will be "pockets" of successful restaurant areas, downtown, bordering the Park Cities, along the Golden Corridor, Bishop Arts District, but the majority of development will economically be driven to the areas that cost an entrepreneur the least while generating the most revenue.  And the suburbs have that mix of homes and offices now, they don't need to come to Greenville Avenue or Addison to have a fun evening.  But much of Dallas must still travel to these areas, in some cases giving our neighbors sales tax revenue our city could desperately use right now.

This whole vote on wet/dry (I have no doubt the signatures will be obtained, the question is whether the state and county will allow it to be voted on, two years ago it was stopped) will change how many businesses will operate.  Retailers who currently sell to clubs will see a loss of those who switch to wholesale sellers.  Landlords in traditional "wet" areas will have property highly desireable for bars (where a food-to-liquor sales requirements are much lower), but will have to be more competive for restaurants looking to move to a more "domestic" neighborhood.  And from what I'm reading, Unicard will change to service restaurants and bars in other requirements of following the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code.

So to recap, "Dry" doesn't mean you can't drink - you just need a membership.  "Dry" is something that our neighbors have given up (and most major cities in Texas don't even have).  "Dry" means we taxpayers pay for agents to look through boxes and boxes of little signed pieces of paper instead of stopping wrong way drunk drivers on the tollway.  "Dry" means we have fewer small neighborhood spots, it's unaffordable unless they have volume.  "Dry" means some of us have to travel miles to purchase our beer and wine - and give the sales tax revenue to other municipalities.  "Dry" means guests of restaurants licensed as clubs pay a surcharge for choosing to have a cocktail in their neighborhood.

And Unicard, Unicard is a good company and good people doing a good service.

No comments: