Rincon City Council approved its broad and sweeping alcohol ordinance Monday night, putting into code everything pertaining to the sale of alcohol in the city — including how much money restaurants can make from the sale of liquor by the drink.
By a 5-0 vote, council members approved the second reading of the ordinance that includes a provision that restaurants must make at least 55 percent of their sales from food if they have a liquor license.
“There is not a decision that is not made without a lot of discussion and a lot of very carefully weighing the pros and cons of how it affects our community,” Council member Ann Daniel said in prepared remarks. “We have spent as a council countless hours writing and rewriting this ordinance and weighing every guideline there is for this document. We have debated the issues and wording for six months.”
Rincon voters passed a referendum by a 911-380 count asking the council members to allow liquor by the drink sales in full-service restaurants.
“I think the ordinance seems very generous at 55 percent,” said Rev. Bob Rogers, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Rincon and one of the leading opponents of the referendum. “It will be in line with our county, which recently adopted a 55 percent requirement for the restaurants.”
Rogers noted the overwhelming majority of the vote in favor of the liquor by the drink referendum. But he said the campaign issue was for family-friendly restaurants.
“I think you are honoring the wishes of that majority by putting that percentage slightly over the even mark,” he said.
Rogers also pointed to the report from Applebee’s that said it makes around 20 percent of its profits on average from the sale of liquor.
“You shouldn’t have any problem attracting a restaurant that wants to sell liquor,” he said.
In her statement, Daniel addressed referendum proponents’ concerns that not going with a 50/50 rule in the ordinance would hurt Rincon’s chances of attracting full-service restaurants.
“Port Wentworth already has a jump on us,” she said. “To me, it would make more sense as a business person to locate in Port Wentworth closer to I-95.”
Daniel also said the ordinance, as written, would prevent restaurants from becoming more of a bar and asked that the city closely monitor the situation.
“Though it is still not perfect, we feel the ordinance is fair to both sides,” she said. “As with any controversial subject, we can’t please everyone. One of the things we all agree on is we all want a place where we can take our families to enjoy a meal that is close, convenient, and we also want our tax dollars to stay in Rincon.”
Charlie Kea, president of the Community Progress Council of Effingham that advocated the referendum, attended Monday night’s meeting but did not address council members on the issue.
The ordinance will take effect May 8, and Rincon is expected to be ready to take applications for liquor license.