PYOB: New rule allows establishments to install beer, wine taps

Bars, restaurants and hotels can allow customers to pour their own beer and wine under a new state rule. But several popular Traverse City area venues say they don’t intend to do so.

The new state Liquor Control Commission rule allows establishments with on-premises liquor licenses to install beer and wine taps that dispense up to 96 ounces per order through tap handles at customers’ tables. The rule does not allow for the dispensing of liquor and mixed drinks.

But some local bar and restaurant owners say they probably won’t install self-service systems, particularly tabletop beer taps. They cite a variety of reasons, including cost of installation, the increased potential for inadvertently serving minors and the loss of jobs.

“I’m thinking I’m not going there,” said Beth Schram, manager of Sleder’s Family Tavern in Traverse City. “I like my servers and bartenders, and I’m going to keep them.”

Schram was among several restaurant and bar managers contacted by the Traverse City Business News who hadn’t heard about the new rule, which took effect Dec. 9.

The manager at one local taproom said having machines replace bartenders would destroy an important reason for going out for a beer.“It takes away the human interaction between the customer and bartender,” said the manager, who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the owner. “If you don’t have that, what do you have?”

But the days of the fictional television bar “Cheers,” where you could confide in the bartender and everyone knew your name, might someday see last call because of the efficiency and cost control offered by self-service taps.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association is pushing the concept to its members through a partnership with Table Tap, a Norcross Ga.-based installer of self-serve tap systems.

“By partnering with us, Table Tap will always be aware of any changes to regulations that come up and we will be able to help with anything compliance-related,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said.

Table Tap founder Jeff Libby said self-service systems can cut beer waste by as much as 30 percent. That loss occurs when bartenders overfill glasses and slip free beer to customers, he said. There also is a loss from kegs that aren’t fully emptied.

Self-serve tabletop taps “increase sales and profits and reduce labor costs somewhat,” Libby said.

Michigan is the 47th state to specifically allow tabletop wine and beer taps, he said. Although he doesn’t have any Michigan customers yet, Libby expects he will, in part because of the state’s rapidly growing craft beer industry.

“Michigan is one of the biggest beer states in the country,” he said.

The new state rule also allows hotels with liquor licenses to install beer and wine taps in guest rooms. The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is not planning to exploit that opportunity, according to spokesman J. Michael DeAgostino.“It is so new we’re simply not up to speed on it,” he said. “We’ll wait until the market proves its worth and works out any operation and legal problems.”