The province has adjusted its new minimum prices for alcohol in the wake of criticism over the rollout of new rules allowing “happy hour” discounts.
A new category for draft beer creates a minimum charge of $12 for a 60-ounce pitcher – down from $15 previously announced – or $0.20 per ounce for large volumes over 50 ounces instead of $0.25, which still applies to smaller glasses and pints.
“Upon reviewing B.C.’s minimum prices, we realized they weren’t on par with consumers’ expectations and we took action to find a fair compromise that still upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety,” said MLA John Yap, who heads the province’s liquor policy reforms.
The new regulations let bars and restaurants charge lower prices for selective times or occasions, but forced some low-price establishments to raise prices to match the new minimums.
That will still be the case for pints in some locales – bars that had charged less than $5 must raise their prices to that minimum for 20 ounces.
The province has also increased the minimum price for spirits from $2 to $3 per ounce.
Addictions experts had called for higher minimum pricing to reduce health and safety risks to drinkers.
Alliance of Beverage Licensees executive director Jeff Guignard supported the spirit price increase in the interests of public safety, noting a patron previously could have bought five single-ounce shots for $10.
But he said the lower minimum beer pitcher price of $12 against a minimum 20-ounce pint price of $5 may encourage over-drinking and intoxication.
“You’re more likely to start sharing pitchers than you are to buy individual pints,” he said.
Provincial regulations limit a single serving of beer to 24 ounces, so pitchers can’t be ordered by a lone patron.
But Guignard noted it’s harder for a server to track how much patrons are drinking when they’re ordering beer by pitchers instead of glasses.
“You don’t know if a particular person has had one pint or had the entire pitcher.”
The new minimums mean little for bars and restaurants that charge higher prices already.
Guignard senses a “rural-urban divide” in which many Interior bars charging lower prices than the new minimum will have to raise prices, while that won’t generally be the case in much of the Lower Mainland, outside of parts of Vancouver.
He said the industry now hopes for stability and certainty.
“This is now the third time they’ve changed minimum pricing,” Guignard said. “It’s all a bit confusing and annoying.”
Lower prices can be selectively offered for “ladies night” specials or “team night” for players in uniform. Minimum prices do not apply to catered events, or special occasion licences.