Queen’s liquor licence legacy

Trials and tribulations of student-run pubs and their financial balancing acts

Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, is applying for four separate liquor licences for campus pubs.
Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, is applying for four separate liquor licences for campus pubs.
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Brian Sterling remembers a time when the biggest problem Clark Hall Pub had was running out of beer.

Sterling was social development convener for the Engineering Society in 1972, when Clark Hall Pub first opened.

On opening night, Sterling said, the new staff tried to provide an incentive for faculty to join students for drinks on Friday afternoon.

“The idea was to put a little coupon or a little reminder in Golden Words saying if you brought a professor, you’d get your first beer free.”

The beer came from bottles, not taps, and was served for 50 cents in a plastic mug to the 50 or so people who showed up each Friday.

In those days, the pub was nothing more than an open room with a few chairs. It was open every Friday, nobody charged PST and Sterling had to re-apply for a liquor licence weekly.

Clark Hall was meant to be a reward for hard-working students at the end of the school week, not a distraction. The bar staff, Sterling said, were some of his friends, who took their paycheques in the form of beer.

“Even though it was being done by a student, there was oversight, making sure things were on the straight and narrow,” he said, adding that although he can’t remember, he thinks there was probably a faculty member who kept an eye on things.

Keeping financial books in Clark’s early years wasn’t hard.

“Because the operation was a lot smaller than it is now, it was a pretty straightforward task,” Sterling said. “If it wasn’t balanced, the guys serving the beer would dig into their tips and balance it.” In the pub’s first year, the Friday afternoon gatherings quickly became what Sterling called an “informal ritual.”

He asked AMS student constables to help supervise and posted them at the top and bottom of the stairs.

“The regulations were pretty lax. You needed to have security and you needed to have fire exits, but you weren’t bound by any liquor licence like you are now.” Because there was no law requiring the pub or the University to hold a blanket licence to cover all campus pubs, Clark Hall had to apply for a Special Occasion Permit if it wanted to sell beer. Sterling had to re-apply every week.

By 1988, the University held a liquor licence which was shared between all the pubs on campus: Alfie’s, the QP, Clark Hall and the Grad Club. Each establishment had a right to the licence because the pub staff were running the bar on behalf of the school.

Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, now holds a blanket liquor licence for the university.

The recent closure of Clark Hall Pub, however, motivated Griffiths to apply for four separate liquor licences, one for each establishment: the AMS pubs, Clark Hall, the Grad Club and catered events.

Griffiths said he plans to apply this month, and hopes they will be approved later this fall.

Having separate licences for each pub means each bar would order their alcohol using an individual identification number. It also means that one licence can be revoked without affecting the other, holding a bar accountable for its actions without punishing them for the indiscretions of the others.

Under the blanket licence, if one pub has its licence revoked by the Liquor Licence Control Board, all pubs on campus would lose the privilege of serving alcohol.

Although there have been incidents in the past which have threatened the liquor licence, the university has never had it revoked.

“Most places that have had their license revoked don’t reopen,” Griffiths said.

“When there’s an issue, two things can happen. If a liquor inspector sees something, they can make a recommendation to the [liquor license] board to have the license revoked,” Griffiths said.

He added that there are also internal consequences—consequences he administers.

“I could say for a period of time, the pub has lost the right to operate an establishment under our license.”

The QP had its liquor license suspended for two weeks by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario in the fall of 2003 after an inspector visiting the pub on Saint Patrick’s Day earlier in the year found it was serving intoxicated students instead of removing them. Because of the incident, the pub’s liquor-serving capabilities were suspended from Nov. 2 – 14, 2003.

Because the University’s licence covered all three campus pubs, suspending operations at one would normally mean closing all three. Luckily, Griffiths said, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission was open to negotiations and allowed Alfie’s and Clark Hall Pub to remain open.

“They basically were open to discussion because we had a clean record.” Clark Hall’s licence has never been revoked, but five years ago, Griffiths suspended Clark’s right to use the licence.

During Homecoming 2002, celebrations at the pub were interrupted when the smoke from a barbeque set off the fire alarm. After partiers were allowed back into the building, Campus Security called Griffiths. He said a head count revealed that the bar was almost 50 per cent over capacity. He decided to suspend Clark’s liquor licence privileges.

Griffiths said because it was EngSoc executive who decided to close Clark Hall Pub and not the liquor licence board, the closure won’t affect the University’s track record as a licensee.

Unlike the QP and Alfie’s, which are overseen by John McDiarmid, AMS food and beverage officer, Clark Hall doesn’t have a permanent staff member overseeing their operations. Although Griffiths holds the liquor licence, he was never involved in how the pub was run, he said.

“I think what I’ve done is said ‘these are my concerns. It’s up to you to address them,’” he said. “I’ve never gotten involved in the way it’s run.” Having a permanent staff member overseeing Clark, he added, would ease some of his concerns.

“I don’t think that John McDiarmid has taken away from the students’ learning experience,” he said. Instead, it gives students somewhere to turn for help and advice.

Erin Hall, business manager for Clark Hall Pub before it closed in July, said hiring a permanent staff member to oversee the pub’s financial books might prevent future problems.

“I think it could be useful in terms of hiring them as a resource like John McDiarmid,” she said. “I think it would just give the University more confidence that things were being done properly if that resource is there.”

She said she would be wary of a permanent staff member potentially reducing the learning opportunities available to students.

“I would hate to see that person get too involved because this position is to give students real-life experience managing a business.”

In stark contrast to how Clark Hall was run when it first started, the business manager in recent years had more administrative work to do to ensure the pub was running smoothly. On top of working one or two shifts behind the bar and her duties at the beginning and end of every night of operation, Hall spent hours balancing the books and making deposits.

“I would estimate I would spend about 20 hours a week on that,” she said.

Like Sterling in the 1970s, Hall was responsible for balancing the books at the end of every night. She had to account for the amount of each type of alcohol sold and made sure the cash total and the total amount of all purchases made by credit were reconciled at the end of the month. But different payment methods, higher capacities and more nights of operation make balancing the books now a much more daunting task than 35 years ago.

She said she made deposits into Clark’s bank account usually once a week, but a busier week meant more frequent deposits.

In addition to submitting a budget to the Board of Directors and EngSoc executive for approval at the beginning of each year, the business manager must present the pub’s numbers to the EngSoc board of directors at the of every month to ensure the lines in the original budget match the amount of money coming in and going out.

She said she thinks the University should have split its liquor license a long time ago.

“In the past, the issues campus has had have been bar-specific. If something happens to one of the bars, you don’t want to have to shut down every bar on campus.”

Liquor Licence 101

Liquor licences are administered by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario according to guidelines set out by the Liquor Licence Act.

The Act regulates the sale and service of alcohol throughout Ontario and allows for a variety of types of liquor licences depending on the location and events. This includes liquor sales licences, brew on premise facility licences, liquor delivery service, manufacturer’s licences and manufacturer’s representative licences. Special Occasion Permits are also available for events such as weddings or receptions.

The Liquor Licence Act was last updated in February 2007 to permit the licensing of additional areas of bars. Previously, areas such as washrooms were not eligible to be licensed. In order to allow bar patrons to monitor their drinks—particularly in light of concerns about date rape drugs—the Act was amended to allow the drinks to be brought into those areas.

An applicant can be issued a licence to sell liquor unless:

  • the applicant’s financial history or current position suggests he or she can’t reasonably be expected to be financially responsible in conducting business
  • the applicant’s past or present conduct, or the conduct of any other person involved in the operation and management of the establishment, suggests they won’t abide by the law or conduct their business with integrity and honesty
  • the applicant submits false information in his or her application for a licence.

The Act says it’s illegal to sell or supply liquor to any person under the age of 19 or to any person who appears intoxicated. It also says all liquor served must be purchased from a government store or from another licensed seller.

Licensed establishments can serve alcohol from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. daily, except on New Year’s Eve when the drinks can flow until 3 a.m. Restricted hours of alcohol service can be established as a condition of the licence in some circumstances.

Source: agco.on.ca; compiled by Lisa Jemison

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