Atlanta seeks stricter enforcement of restaurants violating liquor laws

In Atlanta, a place licensed as a restaurant must get 50% of its sales from food.

In Atlanta, a place licensed as a restaurant must get 50% of its sales from food.

The city of Atlanta hopes to crack down on restaurants that violate their liquor licenses and essentially operate as bars or clubs, according to new rules passed Monday.

Elected officials from across the city have spoken up in recent months about nightclubs and lounges they believe are posing as restaurants, generating complaints from residents about noise and traffic. To be licensed as an “eating establishment,” businesses must make at least 50% of their sales from food.

Licensed restaurants are given exemptions that nightclubs do not receive. They are able to serve drinks on Sundays, for example, and have different requirements for how close they can be to homes, schools and churches.

When a restaurant applies for an alcohol license or wants to renew one in Atlanta, they are required to submit statements showing that they are making 50% of their sales from food. But “there is no regular method” for the city to confirm that those statements are accurate, the new ordinance states.

The ordinance directs the office of the Chief Financial Officer to conduct annual audits of a sample of local businesses that have liquor licenses as a restaurant.

Under the new law, the city will be able to annually inspect the receipts, records and financial reports of at least 1% of the city’s eating establishments to check that they are in compliance. If not, their license can be revoked or not renewed.

The ordinance leaves it up to the finance department to determine which businesses are audited and how they are selected.