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Question: Isn't there a law that says if you buy a bottle of wine at a restaurant and don't consume it all, you can cork the bottle and take it home? I was at a restaurant recently and asked to take home a bottle that still had wine in it, but was told that they didn't know anything about that law and that the Liquor Commission hadn't given them any information. Can you find out what the law is?
Answer: There apparently is some confusion among both establishments and their patrons about a new state law allowing customers to take home partially consumed bottles of wine (no other liquor).
The law PERMITS establishments with restaurant, hotel, club, cabaret or brewpub liquor licenses to let customers take home bottles of wine that they ordered but did not fully consume. But it does not require them to do so.
The law, which took effect in the summer of 2002, also "made it discretionary with the various county liquor control departments whether or not to permit that (taking unfinished bottles of wine home)," explained Anna Hirai, special assistant to the Honolulu Liquor Commission's administrator, Wallace Weatherwax.
On Aug. 7, the Honolulu commission issued a declaratory order reaffirming that the liquor licenses specified remained "on-premise" consumption licenses, but with a "very narrowly defined exception."
To qualify for that exception, the establishments had to have a valid liquor license as a restaurant, club, cabaret, hotel or brewpub; the patron must have purchased wine for consumption with a meal; and the purchased wine bottle must be recorked or resealed in its original container.
The commission sent out notices, dated Aug. 12, of its declaratory ruling to the liquor licenses permitted to do the recorking, Hirai said.
She emphasized that this is not a mandatory practice.
"Certain licensees, although they are permitted to do this have been conservative in implementing the practice because there are some liability concerns," she explained.
In fact, the commission advised the establishments to consult with their attorney or insurance agency "to determine if the risk exposure is acceptable to you."
It also advised them to develop "best practices" -- such as training employees to detect intoxicated patrons and resealing wine bottles so they're not easily reopened -- to ensure the public's safety, as well as to protect the businesses, employees and patrons from civil or criminal liabilities.
Meanwhile, letters also were sent to "dispenser class licensees," i.e., bars that may also have food service, saying they could not offer recorking unless they had a restaurant, club, hotel, cabaret or brewpub liquor license.
"Some of them may have been under the mistaken impression that they could offer recorking," she said.
Under Hawaii's open alcohol container law, open containers of "intoxicating liquor" must be placed in the trunk of a vehicle, or, in the case of vehicles without trunks, in an area not normally occupied by people. Utility or glove compartments are not acceptable areas.
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