How Zeeland amends liquor license rules to support eateries

Mitch Bakker says the Zeeland City Council’s unanimous decision to amend its liquor ordinance will broaden what he’ll be able to offer his patrons.

“We believe that alcohol will enhance people’s experience,” says Bakker, owner of the fast-casual restaurant StreetsTaco Kitchen in downtown Zeeland. “People like to have a drink with their dinner. Having it (the amendments) will open up some additional clientele for us.”

Bakker adds the recent creation of a “social district” in Zeeland is another feather in his entrepreneurial cap since it will give eateries such as his added draw.

Zeeland’s social district

Businesses receive social district licenses from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to sell alcoholic beverages that can be consumed on publicly owned property. Social districts are specific public areas designated by local governments where customers are allowed to carry a drink or open container of alcohol purchased from a participating bar or restaurant.

Common areas, which are not tied to a specific business and where people can quaff their drinks together, exist within social districts.

“With us having alcohol, it covers the whole social district so that you can be at one end or the other and have a drink (from another eatery that serves alcohol),” says Bakker.

Zeeland is limited by population to four liquor licenses. Bakker however, is applying for a development district area license. His application will need City Council and Michigan Liquor Control Commission approval.

The updates

The City Council updated ordinance includes:
  • Remove the cap on the number of on-site alcohol consumption licenses. The current cap, based on population quota licenses, is four.
  • Allow restaurants with a minimum of 25 seats to serve alcohol. Currently, only restaurants with 50 or more seats may serve.
  • Remove rules requiring a screen separating the bar area from the dining area.
  • Remove food revenue requirements for microbreweries, small distilleries and small winemakers.
  • Remove restrictions limiting seating in bar areas.
  • Reduce the required age of bartenders from 21 to 18.
  • Remove the city’s entertainment and dancing permit fees at establishments serving alcohol.
  • Continue to forbid alcohol sales on Sunday.
  • Remove space and location requirements around alcohol displays.
  • Continue to not allow gas stations to sell alcohol.
  • Continue current food revenue requirements for all other establishments.

These are incremental but important changes, says Zeeland Marketing Manager Abby deRoo, considering the city did a 180-degree turn in 2006 when it ended its nearly 100-year ban on serving alcohol.

The ‘big’ tweaks

For Bakker, the tweaks that offer the most benefit are the bartender age being dropped to 18, enabling him to broaden who he can hire now, and the lower seating capacity.

“Those are the big ones,” says Bakker.

Even though Zeeland is limited to four liquor licenses based on population and two off-site licenses to sell packaged liquor, development district area licenses give businesses another avenue for obtaining a license.

“Overall, a lot of the changes (the City Council made) makes community business easier,” says deRoo. “We had to make changes to our ordinance so that we could access the development district program or redevelopment program or even transfer in (Ottawa) County. So in order for us to see growth, we had to amend our ordinance, so we have access to other avenues for these licenses.”

Clarifying the ordinance

The city gauged what the Michigan Liquor Control Commission is recommending, which is why it loosened restrictions such as minimal seating requirements in bars or restaurants.

“Through the years, from a staff perspective, we noticed things in the ordinance that could be better worded or clarified,” says Zeeland City Manager Tim Klunder. 

“We also worked with our designated license holders, who brought some things to our attention that needed to be cleaned up or were prohibiting them.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.