What’s in a name? Changes coming to Food Primary Licence Naming Policy

British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch is reviewing its policies on naming and signage for establishments with food primary liquor licences. You can read the consultation paper here.

The current policy in British Columbia is that an establishment with a food primary liquor licence  (think restaurant rather than a bar) cannot be named in a way that is misleading and suggests the establishment’s focus is on liquor sales rather than food sales. To ensure compliance, the names and signage used by all food primary licensees must be approved by the LCLB. This is by no means a recent policy; since Prohibition successive Liquor Control and Licensing Acts, Regulations, and policies have attempted to control and influence how bars and restaurant’s identify and market themselves to the public.

The Branch considers it to be in the public interest that licensed establishments not advertise in a way that misleads the public, or encourages irresponsible consumption of alcohol. This means that an advertisement or sign for a restaurant with a food primary licence must not use terms such as “bar”, “saloon” or “tavern” in its name as these words suggest the restaurant’s primary function is to serve alcohol rather than food. While this may seem intuitive, and a reasonable restriction on how restaurants market themselves, in practice the process has proven challenging and time-consuming for LCLB staff, and caused considerable frustration for licensees.

Consider that between 2002-2015 food primary licensed establishments were permitted to operate a lounge area (essentially a bar within a restaurant) and accordingly the word “lounge” could appear in the name of restaurant’s with that type of licence. The lounge endorsement regulation was repealed in 2015, but many establishments in BC continue to refer to themselves as “lounges”. Additionally, it has long been the case in BC that it is acceptable for the word “bar” to appear in the name of a restaurant, provided it was preceded by a food reference (e.g. “Bill’s Bar” is unacceptable, but “Bill’s Burger Bar” is okay).

Complicating matters further is that while terms like “bar” and “lounge” have relatively well known and understood meanings, changes in consumer preferences and market trends make it difficult for the LCLB to develop and maintain a “definitive list of appropriate naming conventions” that are, or are not, appropriate for establishments with food primary licences. The word “craft” is a good example of this problem. In British Columbia that word is quickly becoming synonymous with beer (which is a good thing). But is it appropriate for a restaurant to use the word “craft” in its name or marketing material to suggest to consumers that the focus of its business is on beer rather than food?

Taken as a whole, BC’s policies respecting naming and signage associated with food primary liquor licences has become problematic.

Proponents of maintaining (or strengthening) the status quo believe that the LCLB should ensure that establishments with food primary licences don’t market themselves in a way that is confusing, or gives them an unfair business advantage. For example, some individuals and businesses may not mind, and indeed may appreciate, a restaurant opening on their street, whereas they may have different views about the same business calling itself a “bar”. Alternatively, the competitors of a food primary licensed establishment who have undertaken the rigorous process of obtaining a liquor primary licence, may resent that their competition is holding itself  out as a bar when they are not licensed in that capacity. It begs the question, what’s in a name?

The counter argument is that the LCLB should not concern itself with how restaurants,  or any licensed establishment for that matter, choose to name or market themselves. For some perspective on this issue, it bears highlighting that Quebec is the only other province in Canada that regulates the names of licensed establishments. Provided the name of the restaurant is not socially irresponsible, does it really matter what it is called? As liquor service becomes more innovate in British Columbia, and the division between food primary and liquor primary establishments continues to shrink, the LCLB’s attention to this issue becomes less and less meaningful.

Have a point of view? The LCLB is soliciting comments until December 15, 2017. Have concerns about your bar or restaurant’s compliance with British Columbia’s liquor laws? 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.