A proposed amendment to the county liquor regulations -- which would require restaurant owners to wait three months before applying for a license -- is drawing conflicting opinions from county business members.
"You're taking away an aspect of the business that we're trying to attract," said Leslie Ward, assistant manager of the Wakefield Valley Golf Club's restaurant in Westminster.
"Once you've presented yourself as a non-alcoholic business, it's hard to bring in that market once you're established," she said.
But Rudi Paul, owner of Rudy's 2900 in Finksburg, said he had no problem with the proposed regulation. "It really wouldn't matter to me," he said. "If that's the law, then people should respect the law."
The proposal, suggested by liquor board Chairman Earle H. Brewer, is designed to help restaurants that serve liquor meet the 41 percent food-sales requirement, one of the lowest percentages in the state.
Often, restaurants that aren't established end up becoming bars because they don't have a reputation for their food, Mr. Brewer said.
"Selling the alcohol is the easy part," he said. "The money flows in quickly and easily, and though they always mean to get around to addressing the food question, they never do.
"Once they get established in the public eye as a bar or tavern, they never quite make it as a restaurant."
For example, several county Chinese restaurants that operated for months without liquor licenses always meet the food quota.
In contrast, four establishments where The Pit used to operate in Westminster have had trouble meeting the food requirement because the community views the site as a bar, he said.
But some owners say the regulation is an unnecessary roadblock to a restaurant's success.
"If it's the type of institution you don't want to give a liquor license to,then say so up front," said John Schulze, president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. "At a white tablecloth restaurant, people expect you to have a wine list and they also expect you to have a liquor license.
"The first three months are the most critical time" to determine a restaurant's success.
Ms. Ward agreed. "You're taking away a choice for people, and even if they aren't going to make that choice, they view it as unfair," she said. "It's very tough to get established without a liquor license."
But Mr. Brewer said waiting should not be a problem for a legitimate restaurant.
"The question is primarily the percentages," he said. "A legitimate restaurant will be able to handle it."
The liquor board is also considering changing a current regulation to read that all beverage containers, empty or not, must be cleared from tables within 15 minutes after the establishment closes.
Board members said the rewording will prevent confusion when owners are accused of serving alcohol after closing time.
A public hearing on the amendments will be conducted at the board's next meeting, Nov. 10.