Restaurant Group Hopes To Do Away With Private Memberships For Alcohol Sales - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/15/07-Tyler

Restaurant Group Hopes To Do Away With Private Memberships For Alcohol Sales

Alcohol sales in Smith County has always been a hot button issue since prohibition, and now a group of restaurant owners is hoping to change the law.

"Tyler Citizens for Restaurant Choice" have filed paperwork with the county to get rid of private membership requirements for restaurants to serve alcohol, hoping to put the issue on the May ballot. And, already, it's stirring up some debate.

Liquor stores may not be allowed inside Smith County lines but bars, like the one inside Texas Roadhouse, are.  Only they have to work for it.

"There's a lot of steps involved and it's very tedious and confusing ... and expensive," said Texas Roadhouse Managing Partner Dave Deffenbaugh.

Restaurants have to be private clubs in order to sell beer, wine and mixed beverages, meaning lots of time, paperwork, and thousands of dollars on their part. On your part, it means forking over your ID and information.

Restaurant owners said it's not about making Smith County wet, or even keeping it dry. It's about cutting down on the hassle of having to scan IDs and fill out memberships cards when you want to buy a drink.

'It is very burdensome to the restaurateurs," says Bob Westbrook, owner of CiCi's Pizza.

He is also the President of the group submitting the ballot proposal, and he said it makes sense for both the restaurant and the customer.

"This isn't going to sell one more glass of wine. It's not going to create an alcohol drinking problem in Smith County," he said.

But others disagree, including Minister Mike Baker at West Erwin Church of Christ. 

"The current law, at least, has some obligation for the person to say, 'Yes, I'm willing to do this, I'm willing to drink on your premises.' But without membership, well you may as well be a wet county," he said.

Baker thinks this will only increase alcohol sales and consumption, and MADD of East Texas thinks so too.

"A lot of times the servers are young, and they're inexperienced to the dangers of underage drinking, the dangers of not carding and they just don't think to do it," said Kim Higgins with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

It's mixed reactions when it comes to mixed beverages; but soon, it may be in the voters' hands.

Tom Mulleins, President and CEO of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, said the current law hurts the local economy because it hinders restaurants from coming to Tyler.

"When they encounter the fact that they have to set up a special separate set of books and a club license and go through all of the requirements that are in the law for this kind of system, it's frustrating for them," Mulleins said.

"Tyler Citizens for Restaurant Choice" has 60 days to get the required 8500 signatures of registered voters to get the issue put on the May ballot. 

Tracy Watler/Reporting: tracy@kltv.com

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