Food-to-booze ratios hit the polls

Minneapolis residents will decide whether to repeal a rule requiring restaurants to generate a percentage of revenue from food.

Ethan Nelson

Minneapolis voters will decide on Election Day whether to repeal a decades-old rule requiring that some restaurants make no more than 30 percent of their income from alcohol sales.

Although the rule was designed to keep rowdy bars out of residential neighborhoods, its opponents say the requirement is archaic and hinders business. Tuesday’s ballot measure follows recent pushes to remove the law.

“This is the finishing touch on what the City Council has already done,” said Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, adding that he hopes voters will decide to remove the law.

In September, the City Council axed a similar rule that required restaurants to make at least 60 percent of their revenue from food. Since that was an ordinance, it only required a vote from the full council.

But the 70-30 rule, established in 1966, is outlined in the city’s charter, so it can only be nixed if 55 percent of residents vote “yes.”

Frey said a unanimous vote from the City Council could repeal the law, but he didn’t think all council members would agree.

Sixty-eight restaurants, which are outside Minneapolis’ downtown zone, are bound by the 70-30 rule, including Cupcake in Prospect Park and Obento-ya Japanese Bistro in Southeast Como.

“It restricts us,” said Derek Grams, owner of Signature Café and Catering, another affected Prospect Park business. “Sometimes I have to tell a customer they can’t have a beer without ordering food.”

This is frustrating, he said, and diminishes the revenue the establishment can bring in.

“If people want to sit on our beautiful patio and just have a glass of wine, they can’t,” Grams said.

He said his restaurant is able to operate because fewer people drink alcohol at lunch than they do at dinner, so much of his revenue comes from food ordered around midday.

City officials plan to combine a repeal of the 70-30 rule with further policy changes that they say would put restaurants in different districts on an equal playing field.

The proposed amendments include new requirements to monitor noise levels and criminal activity, while also giving the City Council more flexibility in issuing licenses and restricting hours of operation.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents parts of the University of Minnesota area, said he expects Minneapolis residents to vote “yes” on Tuesday.

There are enough regulations in place to mitigate noise and disturbances in residential areas, he said, adding that he thinks it’s time for the 70-30 requirement to go.

“It doesn’t fit modern times,” he said.