Orlando asks lawmakers to ease rules on liquor licensing

By: Michael Lopardi

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - There's a new push to bring more small eateries into downtown Orlando.

The city will ask lawmakers for an exemption to allow small restaurants to serve liquor.

The practice is already in place in other Florida cities and supporters say it could be a game-changer for downtown.

Many smaller restaurants only serve beer and wine, but the city hopes changing the rule would encourage more establishments to open up in Orlando.

Read: Liquor to be sold in Lakeland before noon on Sundays

Maxine Earhart, the owner of Maxine’s on Shine, said being able to serve liquor could help her business.

“We’ll make a little more money because we can be more competitive,” she said.

The city is asking Florida lawmakers to reduce the size limits for a restaurant in the downtown area to obtain a liquor license from 2,500 square feet to 1,800 square feet, and lower the minimum serving capacity from 150 customers to 80.

“It allows a small restaurant like mine to compete with bigger places,” said Earhart.

Without the change, small restaurants could still obtain a liquor license, but the cost would be much higher.

Read: Liquor wall staying up in Florida after Gov. Scott's veto

“It's very exciting and it's a potential game-changer for downtown,” said restaurant critic Scott Joseph.

Joseph sat on a city task force that recommended the change.

He said alcohol can play a big role in deciding where customers dine.

“A lot of people don't want just beer and wine. They want to have their special cocktail,” Joseph said.

Similar exemptions have been approved for parts of Jacksonville and St. Petersburg.

“I'm excited. I think it's going to change the whole downtown area,” said Earhart.

But first, lawmakers will have to decide whether the restaurants can expand their drink menu.

Rep. Mike Miller said he plans to file a bill to make the change happen in time for the upcoming legislative session.

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