Commercial Real Estate & Advisory

SLA Leaves Restaurateurs Scratching Their Heads

By Steve Rappaport, Sinvin Managing Director | June 23, 2010

Steve RappaportSLA Leaves Restaurateurs Scratching Their Heads as Liquor License Self-Certification Program Ends

Bureaucrats have reversed the logical: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to become “if it succeeds, suspend it.” Dennis Rosen, SLA chairman, recently announced that the phenomenally successful self-certification program for liquor license applications will end as of June 30.

The backlog of licenses was reduced from 2,116 last October, to 817 this month. Waiting time for approval in New York City is now less than three months for most applicants.

This proved to be a major boon to restaurateurs seeking to start new places. Speedy approval helped solve the recurring landlord-tenant leasing conundrum of liquor license contingency.

This helps deals get done and new businesses open. And of course, gives a nice shot in the arm to the City’s economy. The logic for terminating something that worked so well is a fine example of governmental newspeak and trepidation.

In an online Dining & Wine article from The New York Times (G. Collins, May 14, 2010) Mr. Rosen cited critics who felt that it “created a two-tier system to fast-track applications only from those who were represented by lawyers.”

Quite democratic, sacrificing the good of the probably 90% of those who use a lawyer, to the few who can’t or won’t hire one.

Opening a restaurant is a business decision about capital expenditure. It should not fall under the auspices of a social services viewpoint. Concern for helping those without access to proper funding falls to other city agencies.
Hopefully, other newly implemented measures might keep the backlog from rebuilding. According to the article, these include “the appointment of an internal auditor at the authority, and the assignment of examiners who prescreen applications for missing information — kicking them out quickly for re-application — as well as a redesign of the authority’s intake process requiring fewer examiners to review each application.

“In addition, a new system to electronically receive required photographs of restaurants — and the fingerprints of the owners — will remain.”

Mr. Rosen did offer hope that the program might be re-introduced, but only if government furloughs or layoffs, “or other policies are implemented due to the budget crisis that might impact our ability to get our work done — then we could re-institute the certification process.”

Perhaps this might give him a way back to rescinding a quite ill-advised decision to terminate a very positive program that helped so many in the restaurant and real estate industry.