BYOB permits down in Quebec as more restaurants choose to sell booze
Since the 1980s, many Quebecers have gotten used to the idea of bringing their own bottles of Bordeaux or Riesling to BYOB — bring your own bottle — restaurants.
But in recent years, fewer new restaurants in la belle province are choosing to go that route.
According to information CBC obtained from the Régie des alcools, des courses, et des jeux, the number of bring-your-own-wine permits rose steadily from under 1,500 to more than 1,700 in 2015.
But since then, the number of permits has decreased, with just over 1,600 BYOB permit holders in 2021.
Meanwhile, the number of restaurants serving alcohol had been falling since 2011, but it's since risen from about 9,300 in 2016 to over 10,000 in 2021.
La Maison Grecque is one of the restaurants — like others on Montreal's Duluth Avenue — that still has a BYOB permit.
It's been in business for 44 years, but the restaurant's manager, Kostas Berlemis, said he understands why new restaurant owners would opt to sell alcohol instead of allowing diners to bring their own.
That's because it's difficult for new restaurant owners to make money with what he describes as slim profit margins.
"It's very hard to keep your margins high when you don't serve alcohol. Food is expensive, and if you want to sell it at an economical price, [with] good quality, it's very hard to handle,"said Berlemis.
"Alcohol is profit," he said. "Food is not profit."
He said his restaurant can afford to be a BYOB because it's been in the same location for decades, with a steady stream of hungry diners coming in.
"For a newcomer to do what we are doing, in my opinion, is nearly impossible. The concept has to change."
However, according to Dominique Tremblay, director of public and governmental affairs for the Quebec Restaurant Association, changes in some customer habits have also come into play
"They're just buying appetizers, and they bring, like, two or three bottles of wine. They bring bottles of beer, like 24 bottles of beer. They come as a group [and] sit for hours. So for restaurant owners, it is not an economic plus," said Tremblay.
Diners staying longer means fewer customers, a shift from the 1980s when they'd bring fewer bottles with them and leave sooner, she said.
"The revenue [comes from] the food. So if you don't sell food, you don't make money. So it doesn't make sense."
BYOB and not turning back
Pleasere Singh Ghotra, 21, is a manager at Didar, a restaurant his parents own in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood.
Didar used to sell alcohol but decided to go the way of a BYOB just before the pandemic.
While selling alcohol meant larger profit margins, Ghotra said doing things this way helps him look out for his customers.
"Not a lot of people here are fortunate to have, like $100-150 to spend on a meal, right?"
Ghotra said he prefers that diners bring their own alcohol if it means they keep their costs down and can enjoy themselves without breaking the bank. More restaurants, he said, should consider adopting the "really great model."
And even if he doesn't make as much money, his customers love him for it.
"We're gonna keep it forever, until I pass away," he laughed.