Does a boring ballot question hold the key to sustaining Minneapolis' restaurant boom?

One of Minneapolis' weirdest laws is played for comic effect in a new campaign video: When a couple (played by former Mayor R.T. Rybak and his wife, Megan O’Hara) are served wine and beer at a neighborhood restaurant before they’ve ordered dinner, “Inspector Downer” cuffs the bartender for violating the law.

Funny. But it would be a lot more enjoyable for those seeking passage of Minneapolis Ballot Question No. 2 if it weren’t true.

It is true, though: The Minneapolis city charter not only requires that restaurants outside of downtown “and large commercial corridors” receive 70 percent of revenue from food and non-alcoholic beverages, it dictates that patrons must order food if they want a beer or glass of wine.

And as if that’s not enough, the city also requires that same beer or wine may only be served to patrons “seated for regular dining that have ordered or have been served a meal.”

In other words, that waiter taking your order before getting you a drink? He might not being trying to move you along; he might be just trying to follow the law. 

“It irritates the customers,” said Molly Broder, who owns the 20-year-old Broders’ Pasta Bar at the corner of W. 50th Street and Penn Avenue S. and, with her sons Thomas and Charlie, the recently opened Terzo Vino Bar across the street. “They think you’re rushing them.”

Kathryn Hayes, co-owner of Anchor Fish and Chips in Northeast Minneapolis, pointed out another problem. “Friday night we had a two-hour wait,” she said. People “want to have a beer while they’re waiting.” According to the city law, they can’t.

“It’s a really awkward law,” said Hayes.

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