ABC eyes more agents, scrutiny on bars' food sales - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

ABC eyes more agents, scrutiny on bars' food sales

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will soon make big changes, which could have impacts for many Virginians.

The department will convert into the ABC Authority in 2018 with the aim of making it an even more profitable business for the state, and ABC agents may be re-focused on monitoring what restaurants and bars are serving. 

Board members will still be appointment by the Governor, but will be required to have a background in business or law, it will be easier for ABC to fire under-performing employees, rather than the years it can take as a state department and ABC will be able to skip the lengthy procurement bidding process and just buy what it needs, when it needs it, which they hope will help to save money.

The conversion could mean more stores, but Delegate Dave Albo (R - Fairfax) who sponsored the bill to make ABC an Authority, says only if the Board thinks the additional stores will be profitable. 

"We can start looking at co-locating stores, like in big box retail," explained Albo. "You might end up seeing an ABC store in the side of a Costco, or inside a Giant or Safeway might be an idea." 

Currently, restaurants pay the same price for alcohol as customers and many restaurants and customers say prices are high. 

"If the ABC can be run more efficiently, which we think it can, one of two things can happen. We can drop prices or we can send more money to schools and police," said Albo.

After the controversial and bloody arrest of UVA student Martese Johnson by ABC agents, Albo says next year legislators will consider leaving underage drinking enforcement to local police and adding agents to police whether restaurants selling drinks are also bringing in the required 45 percent of sales from food. 

"A lot of the restaurants, the more established restaurants, have been upset," said Albo. "They see a lot of other restaurants where they never see a person eating a potato chip in the place, yet they're serving alcohol."

Food sales are required to help prevent problems related to public intoxication, such as drunk driving. 

"Right now we have just shy of 5,100 mixed beverage licensees," said ABC Deputy Director Chris Goodman. "Based on the current numbers we're seeing, about 7 percent to 10 percent of the reports that come in prompt some sort of further investigation."

Goodman says that's up to 510 restaurants a year that have to be investigated. ABC has 81 agents designated to do this, but he says it calls for full investigations, pouring over a restaurant's annual food receipts, can take three to six months. Meantime, agents must also each inspect more than 200 restaurants and stores a year. 

"It clearly takes away from their ability to educate and regulate the other licensees they're responsible for," said Goodman. 

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