BANQUET HALLS in Maharashtra hotels will soon be able to operate bars. Invoking the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ reform for the hospitality sector, the state government has now decided to permit even banquetting facilities in hotel establishments to commercially serve alcohol.
Last October, the government had first introduced the concept of a composite liquor license for all the bars functioning out of a star-category hotel, including the rooftops. It has now decided to rule that banquetting facilities can be a part of composite licenses. Additionally, with banquets becoming a popular events’ space across income segments, it will extend the facility to all hotels and restaurants that possess a valid bar permit.
Orders in this regard will soon be issued, said sources. Currently, there is no provision in the excise rules to allow commercial sale of liquor in a banquet. The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) had earlier raised a demand in this regard with the government.
A senior excise department official said, “This is a major ‘ease of doing business’ reform. It will streamline the process of maintaining and the inspection of records to a great deal. We have decided to allow banquetting facilities to be included as part of the composite liquor licence.”
The department is also of the opinion that the move would result in an increase in revenue for the government from the sector. “A 25 per cent fee for such composite licenses for banquet area in normal hotels and restaurants and 100 per cent fee for such facilities in star-category hotels will be charged,” the official said.
In order to obtain a foreign liquor permit, bars are required to earmark an independent and dedicated storage area for alcohol. Under the composite license concept, the main restaurant area having a valid liquor permit will have the stocking facility, while the banquet halls will serve as the service area.
In September last year, an excise department probe had found that almost all open-air restaurants and banquet halls in Mumbai had been misusing “one-day” permits, which are temporary licences meant for serving alcohol in private parties, to operate bars without valid licences. A similar nexus was noticed in Pune too.
Officials said that the once the latest move is implemented, such facilities would have the option of vying for an annual license even for the banquets. “Special function licenses (one-day permits) won’t be necessary. Alcohol from the bars (in the main restaurant) can then serve such areas as well,” an official said.
Welcoming the move, Mumbai’s leading hotelier, Shashidhar Shetty, who is also the chairman of AHAR’s excise sub-committee, said: “The move would benefit both the hoteliers and the government. Many families now prefer to celebrate their special moments outdoors and book banquetting facilities in hotels for it. Often these decisions are made at the last minute, making it difficult for the hotel establishment to avail special function licensees for the same.”
But the new rules do not give the restaurateur a carte blanche. Those applying for a permit would need to possess a valid foreign liquor permit in the same premises. “It won’t be applicable for standalone banquetting facilities,” said an official. To avoid misuse, the government has ruled that liquor permit holder and the banquet owner should be the same.
Drinking permits to continue
The government has turned down the hotel industry’s demand for abolition of the drinking permit. Maharashtra is the only state that has continued with the pre-Independence era rule that drinkers must possess a valid drinking permit. While AHAR and other hospitality sector stakeholders had argued that the rule was no more practical, the excise department has declined their demand, contending that the state had a policy of prohibition of alcohol unlike some other states. Citing similar grounds, it has also turned down a demand for doing away with the demarcation of the permit room and the main restaurant space. (Express News Service)