The city is moving forward with plans to continue requiring bartenders and servers to obtain permits, alcohol serving training and criminal background checks.
Savannah-Chatham police prefer that the alcohol permits known as bar cards and criminal background checks be continued, said Bridget Lidy, Tourism Management & Ambassadorship department director.
Industry representatives learned the latest plan concerning the city’s alcohol ordinance during a meeting at the Coastal Georgia Center on Wednesday.
Savannah officials have been gathering feedback from business owners as they consider addressing issues that arose following the adoption of an overhauled ordinance in January.
After implementing the new ordinance, Savannah officials held off on enforcing new rules requiring restaurant servers and other employees who “handle” alcohol to obtain bar cards meant to ensure employees are trained and following the law. Under the old ordinance, servers were not required to obtain the serving permits that bartenders were required to get as a way to prevent underage drinking and over-serving in bars.
The Georgia Restaurant Association and some business owners have advocated instead for an alternative certification process, which would eliminate background checks and make training the responsibility of the businesses.
The proposed background check and required training prior to employment blocks job seekers by causing a delay and adding costs to the process, said Georgia Restaurant Association lobbyist Mike Vaquer.
“As tight as the employment market is now in this community this sets a barrier for somebody walking up and getting almost an immediate job,” Vaquer said.
City officials say they do not have the resources to administer the bar-card program in-house and are also determining whether to outsource the process.
The Savannah City Council had approved the revised ordinance in August 2016 after a draft was first presented to the public two years earlier after more than a year of development.
The ordinance also created an entertainment license that allows bars to open to 18- to 20-year-olds during live performances. In addition, the ordinance also allows minors to attend alcohol-serving “event venues” such as the Trustees Theater that do not operate as bars.
City staff expects to present the new revisions to the mayor and aldermen for adoption in October. Outreach meetings will then be held to explain the changes prior to their implementation next year.