Midstate liquor license-holding catering businesses are looking forward to providing a new service for clients now that the state has opted to relax restrictions to let them supply the alcohol they serve at off-site events.
Until the rule change goes into effect later this month, event hosts such as fathers of brides need to provide their own alcohol to locations that are considered outside the geographic constraints of their caterers' retail and hotel liquor licenses.
That is a burden on customers and the new policy is welcomed, said Charlene Calvert-Campbell, president of Hellam Township-based Accomac Inn Inc.
During prime summer wedding season, some venues Accomac works with have receptions scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So there is little way for a family to drop off alcohol much before the event, Calvert-Campbell said.
It often has to be delivered the day of the nuptials, she said, and then the family needs to arrange for someone among them to take possession of the alcohol after the festivities.
"Let's face it. Everybody is getting ready for this wedding," which leaves them little time to deal with the alcohol logistics, Calvert-Campbell said.
The new policy will allow Accomac and others like it to provide the next level of service for brides and grooms and other clients, she said.
The change was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett late last month as part of House Bill 148. It also makes changes to allow up to four hours of happy hour time per day instead of two, up to 14 hours per week.
The catering and happy hour changes will take effect July 28, 30 days after the governor signed the bill, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Although the catering change passed through the legislature relatively unscathed to permit off-site supply of alcohol in certain circumstances, the original bill would have allowed more flexibility for bars to schedule the 14 hours of allowed alcohol discounts.
It also would have let customers at restaurants buy up to three unopened bottles of wine after their meals. The provision was axed.
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Payne, R-Dauphin County, nonetheless called the passage and signing a victory for easing the regulatory burden on business.
"You've got a bill that became law," Payne said.
He praised Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, and Sen. John Pippy, R-Allegheny and Washington counties, leaders on the issue in their respective chambers, and others for working through the process to turn the proposed changes into law.
Payne has been among legislators who have come out against many current provisions in the state liquor code that he said place undue burden on businesses and customers alike in Pennsylvania.
The catering provisions in the new law make sense because it allows consumers to turn the issue of providing alcohol at events over to professionals and lets businesses perform a service, he said.
"How do I know how much liquor to buy 200 guests?" Payne asked.
The new rule also lets caterers absorb more liability instead of the family or other host in case celebrants who are drinking get out of hand or some kind of incident occurs, said Kristie Barney, director of sales and marketing for Abbottstown-based Altland House Catering & Events.
Businesses are better set up to absorb and mitigate the risk with insurance and through certified bartenders who can cut off the liquor if necessary, Barney said.
Altland House is going to be notifying its clients of the changes and will be determining how best to roll out the process of providing alcohol at off-site events, Barney said. It also will allow the business to simplify the event and event planning process for customers and offer a new service.
"It is a whole other service now that we have to develop and price," she said.
As for restaurants selling unopened bottles of wine, Payne said a change to allow sales of up to five unopened bottles of wine has been added to House Bill 1693. Introduced by Rep. T. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny County, and co-sponsored by Payne, it also would let holders of beer distributor licenses sell wine and liquor.
Today, patrons can take home an opened bottle of wine but can't buy closed bottles, Payne said. But then they appear to be in violation of the state's open container law, he said.
Adding the sale of unopened wine bottles would be a great addition to Accomac's services and likely would increase its sales, Calvert-Campbell said.
"I don't know what restaurant wouldn't (want to offer the service)," she said. "What is the disadvantage?"