As Central Kentucky restaurants try to remain competitive and profitable during these lean times, they're asking local elected officials for the opportunity to sell alcohol on Sundays.
Sometimes the answer is "no," as it was last week when Versailles City Council narrowly defeated an ordinance that would have allowed "by the drink" sales on Sundays.
The issue will surface again on Monday, when Georgetown City Council will give first reading to a similar ordinance.
And despite the Versailles vote, the matter isn't dead in Woodford County. The fiscal court might direct County Attorney Alan George as early as Tuesday night to draft an ordinance allowing Sunday sales, which are already legal in neighboring Lexington, Frankfort and Lawrenceburg.
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"I anticipate that at the very least there will be a motion to begin the process," George said. Magistrate Jim Staples, a member of the fiscal court, also predicts the county government will soon consider the issue.
Such efforts might be opposed by those who say that alcohol sales are an encroachment on the Christian Sabbath, or that they will only worsen problems such as drunken driving.
"Surely we can go one day without alcohol," said Donald Cole, executive director of the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems. The group, formerly known as the Kentucky Temperance League, opposes the expansion of alcohol, although it has not been asked to do so in Woodford County or Georgetown.
Georgetown, Versailles, Midway and many other Kentucky communities already allow "by the drink" sales in restaurants during the week. So why is there a push to add Sunday as well?
Part of the answer is that it's more profitable to sell beverages than anything else, said Stacy Roof, president of the Kentucky Restaurant Association. The cost of labor and ingredients to serve a drink are less than those to prepare even a simple salad.
"It's tough right now," Roof said. "A lot of restaurants are struggling because their food prices are up, their commodities are up, their overhead and utilities are higher. They don't want to raise prices because consumers are trying to cut back, and they don't want the perception that they're not trying to accommodate their guests."
Tommy Chew, owner of Charcoal's Grill in Georgetown, said he would consider opening his doors on Sunday if the city allowed alcohol sales. His restaurant doesn't benefit, as some sports bars in Lexington do, on Super Bowl Sunday and during other sporting events. He said Sunday sales might prevent some potential customers from dining at Lexington restaurants, and could help lure large hotel chains and convention centers.
Chew tried opening for Sunday brunch last summer but wasn't able to reach his goal of $1,000 in sales. It was more like $600.
"It was OK," he said. "But it wasn't enough to justify opening."
Sunday sales are also gaining popularity as cities seek new revenue.
Georgetown City Council discussed Sunday sales last year, but dropped the matter after council member Mark Showalter withdrew his support in the wake of opposition. Showalter and council member Chad Wallace are sponsoring the ordinance this time.
"It's a very emotional issue," Georgetown Mayor Karen Tingle-Sames said. "There's still going to be opposition."
The issue has resurfaced as the council struggles to reduce expenses and generate revenue. The city has a budget shortfall of about $2.6 million; Sunday alcohol sales might generate as much as $15,000 per year. That would come from a 5 percent tax on alcohol at restaurants, additional payroll taxes from restaurants that were closed on Sundays, and from a $300 yearly license that's required for restaurants to sell alcohol.
The coming of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park has been cited as another factor in the push for Sunday sales. Frankfort, Lexington and Lawrenceburg allow "by the drink" sales on Sundays, and other communities want to be competitive.
But even restaurant owners note that the issue is bigger than that. After all, the equestrian games running from Sept. 25 through Oct. 10, 2010, will cover only three Sundays.
Rather, the region's horse farms, horse sales and Thoroughbred racing attract visitors from out of state and from around the world who are accustomed to having a drink on any day, said Bill Van den Dool, owner of The Black Tulip, a Midway bistro.
"And they say, 'Hey, how come I can't get it here?' " Van den Dool said. He has long hoped that Woodford Fiscal Court would allow Sunday sales in Midway, because that fifth-class city is prohibited by law from doing so on its own.
Sunday sales are not "an ace in the hole" for Ouita Michel, who runs the Holly Hill Inn in Midway as well as Cleveland's at the Woodford Inn in Versailles. But she described Sunday sales are one more tool to turn the Bluegrass region into a destination.
"When you're in the hospitality business, continuity of service is really important, so that whatever is offered in one community is offered in the second community, so that we're all on the same page together," Michel said.
But it can be confusing and frustrating for out-of-towners to be able to have alcohol with a meal in one city, but not in a neighboring one. Business was down at her Versailles restaurant during the Keeneland fall meet.
"When you're trying to bring business out from Lexington to Versailles, and you don't have the ability to serve wine, beer or bourbon, it's a long row to hoe," Michel said. "You're not going to have a lot of takers."
While restaurateurs focus on guests and out-of-town visitors, others say the social cost for local communities should take priority.
Randy Nation, pastor of Woodford Community Christian Church, said extending sales to Sunday will only cause more accidents, drunken driving and neglected families. Nation opposed the Versailles ordinance, saying "six days a week is enough."
"Some of the values that we have, I think, are reasons why people moved here," Nation said. "I'd like to retain those values. I think it's a great place to live."
One person told Nation that Sunday isn't the Sabbath for everyone, and that Saturday is the holy day for some people.
"My response was, 'Perhaps you should try to curb sales on Saturday,' " Nation said. "That didn't go over well."