News: CJ Exclusives

‘Brunch bill’ a big hit across state

More than 100 localities have embraced 10 a.m. alcohol sales within weeks of Senate Bill 155 becoming law

This story was updated Aug. 24 with additional comment.

Residents of municipalities and counties throughout North Carolina do indeed enjoy starting their Sundays with a cocktail. It’s likely that more than a few churchgoers also are imbibing — from Wilmington to Asheville and in more than 100 localities in between.

All of North Carolina’s larger cities, including Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, and, lately, Durham and Fayetteville, have embraced earlier Sunday alcohol sales.

“I think the brunch bill is having a tremendous impact, said Scott Maitland, president of the N.C. Distillers Association and proprietor of Top of the Hill restaurant and distillery in Chapel Hill.
“Frankly, while I have seen an uptick in sales, I don’t expect the real impact to happen until now because school is just starting and downtown Chapel Hill is waking up.
“It’s already having a tremendous impact on distilleries. I have seen my inside distilleries sales jump 25 percent per person.”

A provision allowing restaurants to begin selling liquor at 10 a.m. Sunday — as opposed to noon — was a big part of Senate Bill 155. Alternately known as the “brunch bill,” Gov. Roy Cooper signed it into law June 30. The bill also allows craft distillers to sell five bottles to customers each year and allows the distillers to offer tastings at festivals and other events. The tastings are contingent on local approval, as are the Sunday brunch sales.

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association lobbied hard for the bill throughout the legislative process.

“North Carolina offers 18,000 restaurants and 1,800 hotels,” NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges said in a statement. “As communities across the state give consideration to this issue, we want to do all we can to assist the governmental process, in turn, better serving those visiting our great state.”

Backing that up, the association prepared a “Brunch Bill Ordinance Toolkit,” which includes talking points on why the bill should be adopted on a local level and on how to communicate about the bill with local officials, the group’s website says.

“Before passage of S.B. 155,” says one point, “North Carolina was one of only three states with no on-premise Sunday morning alcohol sales. Twenty-one other states permit earlier Sunday sales uniformly through state law. The remaining 26 either regulate Sunday morning alcohol sales entirely at the local level or allow local governments to opt- in or opt-out of a state law allowing for the earlier sales.”

Says another, “More than 55 million people travel to North Carolina annually, many of which are from countries and states that do not have laws restricting alcohol service on Sundays. This leaves guests confused when our members have to refuse service until noon.”

Some North Carolina lawmakers argued vehemently against the bill, saying people would leave church early and head to the bar, and drunkards would disrupt Sunday services. Beer and wine, some said, well, they’re here and we must live with it. But not whiskey and the like.

Fayetteville opted for the brunch ordinance Aug. 14. New Bern, which held out originally, also recently signed on.

“We’re really excited,” Ricky Biggs, senior manager of a Fayetteville Bonefish Grill told The Fayetteville Observer. “We have been waiting for this for a long time. It’s going to boost business for us.”