Friday, February 03, 2006

Restaurant bill moves forward....

Howard County's delegation to the General Assembly approved a measure to allow restaurant owners to possess multiple liquor licenses, and by extension, open multiple locations. When a local delegation approves a bill it is usually approved by the entire body, as well.

As I said here, the existing restriction of one license per owner is a significant factor in the long waits experienced at many of the county's more popular chain establishments, like Outback Steakhouse.

Richard W. Story, the Economic Development Authority chief executive officer, told the legislators that the current law that limits one owner to two restaurant licenses is restricting growth. In some cases, he testified at an earlier hearing, one corporation owns two different chains, limiting the company to one restaurant per chain.

The original bill would have removed any limit, which drew a question about whether that might invite large corporations to flood Howard with multiple-chain outlets.

"Even though nobody in Howard County actually cooks at home, the market wouldn't allow it," Story replied deadpan, to laughs from the officials.

Aren't we already flooded with chain outlets? I know they've got different names over their doors, but really, how different are these places? Previous restaurant griping here. I'm also interested to hear if others find our restaurant selection as disappointing as I do.

Certainly, this legislation will help the chains, but will it help or hurt the local establishments? I could see it going both ways, as popular local restaurants--for instance, Iron Bridge or Great Sage--could expand in much the same way that Riverside coffee shops did in the 1990s. Or, they could just get pushed out of the market by the Macaroni Outback Cheesecake Uno Grill Steakhouse Factory Food Emporiums of the world.

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