Potomac Legislator Porposes BYOB for Montgomery County Restaurants
Legislation is modeled after similar rules in Washington, D.C.
by Sarah Gantz
December 1, 2010
Wine enthusiasts might be able to bring a bottle of their favorite Bordeaux to their neighborhood bistro if
BYOB legislation makes it to the state legislature this spring.
The proposal by Del. Brian Feldman (D-Dist. 15) is modeled after a similar law in Washington, D.C., that
Feldman says is stealing customers from Montgomery County restaurants. The BYOB proposal is one of
several changes lawmakers are seeking to county liquor laws, among the most stringent in the country.
"The intent is to level the playing field with D.C.," said Feldman of Potomac.
Simon Hewson, the restaurant liaison to the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, said
restaurant owners agree with Feldman that a BYOB law could attract more diners.
More importantly, they see the legislation as a pawn in a larger game of strategy to revise county liquor laws
they consider bogus and outdated, Hewson said.
"This is a very small step on this very long ladder up to the top of the question of the overall Department of
Liquor Control," he said.
The county's Department of Liquor Control distributes most of the beer, wine and liquor in the county. Small,
county-approved wineries are allowed to distribute directly.
For restaurants, that means purchasing wholesale from the county, rather than directly from a distributor,
which often limits restaurants' wine lists to what the county stocks.
Feldman's legislation could push the county to look at its liquor control laws because for the BYOB law to be
effective, there would need to be a greater availability of high-end wines, Hewson said.
Diners flock to the District not only because they can bring their own bottles to restaurants there, but also
because the District has a better selection than their neighborhood eateries and liquor stores, Hewson said.
"People from Montgomery County buy the higher end wines in D.C., then they have to drink them in D.C.
because they can't drink them in Montgomery County," said Hewson. "It's a lose-lose all around for
Under Maryland tax law, the state comptroller's office permits residents to bring in from another jurisdiction 1
quart of alcohol per month per person, or 1 gallon from abroad, said Kathie Durbin, division chief for
licensing, regulation and education under the Department of Liquor Control.
Feldman said he will not decide whether to pursue the legislation until he hears from members of the
community and restaurant industry at a public hearing Monday.
Durbin said she could not comment on whether the department would support the legislation.
"This is probably the kind of bill we have to have a lot of conversation with — there's a lot of pieces to it,"
Feldman said he developed the legislation after restaurant owners told him they thought they were losing
customers to the District and its BYOB laws. However, not all restaurateurs agree.
"I can tell you right now, we do have some serious reservations," said Melvin Thompson, a spokesman for the
Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Those concerns include: How significantly the law would cut into restaurant owners' alcohol sales, liability
issues a restaurant could face if a diner drinks too much, and how to ensure that minors do not consume
alcohol, if it is supplied by patrons.
Thompson said the association will talk with members, local authorities and lawmakers before giving a formal
yea or nay on the proposal.
If he does move forward with the proposal, Feldman said he likely would refine the legislation to allow people
to bring wine to only restaurants that adopt the policy and to allow restaurants to collect a corkage fee, a
charge restaurants could collect from diners who bring their own bottles.
The Montgomery County delegation is seeking other changes to county liquor laws, including a measure to
allow beer and liquor stores in Kensington, where they currently are prohibited and to expand liquor and beer
sales in Takoma Park and Burtonsville.
County Executive Isiah Leggett last month launched a six-month test of Sunday liquor sales at county-owned
distributors; the stores were previously open Monday through Saturday only.