Alcohol & Advocacy

Food Primary Liquor Licence: Operating Outside of Licence Purpose

As Alcohol & Advocacy has previously explained, British Columbia’s Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch issues food primary licences to businesses (restaurants) where the primary purpose of the establishment, through all hours and areas of operation, is the service of food.

On October 7, 2019 the General Manager of the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch released its decision in re Club Ilia Eatery and Lounge. That decision can be read in full here.

Club Ilia had previously admitted to the contravention of operating contrary to the primary purpose of its food primary licence.  Put simply, Club Ilia was operating as a bar but was only licensed to operate as a restaurant. Because the contravention was admitted, at issue before the General Manager’s delegate was only what penalty, if any, was appropriate.

Club Ilia is located on University High Street in Burnaby, BC. In its written submissions to the General Manager’s delegate it described itself as a small, “non-chain” restaurant serving its community of university students and young families.

The admitted facts in support of the contravention were as follows. On February 1, 2019 four liquor inspectors descended on Club Ilia at approximately 11:25 pm. The liquor inspectors observed:

  • Two “beer pong” tables;
  • Patrons ordering drinks from the bar;
  • A DJ playing music loud music; and
  • Patrons dancing

One of the liquor inspectors asked to order food but was told the kitchen had closed approximately 45 minutes earlier.

Restaurants and other establishments licensed to sell alcohol pursuant to the terms and conditions of a food primary liquor licence must be primarily engaged in the service of food whenever alcohol is sold or served.

The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch takes the position that it is contrary to the public interest for restaurants to operate as bars. The current liquor licensing regimes requires public and local government, or First Nations, input before a liquor primary licence is issued. This process does not apply to food primary licences. Obtaining a food primary licence and then operating as a bar circumvents this process and risks exposing communities to the negative effects of liquor sales including noise, drunkenness and unruly patrons.

In this case the General Manager’s delegate found that a penalty in the amount of $7,500 was warranted. She found that the licensee had been operating with a “blatant disregard” for the requirements of its food primary liquor licence and that a penalty was required to encourage future compliance and to operate as a deterrent to other licensees.

If your establishment has received a contravention notice, or is facing enforcement action by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.