Why do NC bars require membership and what are the rules?


It’s a standard part of many North Carolina parties.

Upon entering the bars, patrons fumble for their IDs and membership cards. Or, in 2022, they tap their membership information on tablet screens to access it. Non-members pay a small fee – usually a dollar, but sometimes even less – to become members. Or they enter as guests of the members.

State Membership Rules, which date from 1982are headaches for bar managers who don’t understand why they endure.

“I think it’s an outdated relic of a law,” said Zach Speakes, the general manager of Root Bar in East Asheville.

Corey Israel, co-owner of Haywood Country Club in West Asheville, called the rules “pretty outdated.” His bar charges patrons a dime to sign up.

Members arriving at Haywood Country Club in Asheville must register before they can order a drink.

Not all North Carolina businesses that look and act like a bar require membership.

Businesses that serve alcohol on-site and derive less than 30% of their revenue from food and non-alcoholic beverages are considered private establishments that can only admit members and their “bona fide guests.” The state has separate classifications for hotel bars and breweries, which do not require membership.

Both Speakes and Israel said verifying memberships and signing up new members slowed service, especially during low-staff shifts. And while regulars know the drill, out-of-state patrons and new North Carolina residents are often hesitant when asked to provide personal information to “join” a bar.

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Politicians on both sides of the aisle say they would support scrapping membership rules.

“It’s a regulation with no real function that I can think of,” said Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe), who serves on the House Liquor Control Committee.

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), vice-chairman of the House ABC committee, said: “I don’t see a compelling reason to require certain bars to maintain membership rules. It seems like unnecessary red tape to me. “

Yet neither was aware of talks in the North Carolina General Assembly to end bar membership.

Warnings, fines and suspensions

There is no limit to the number of guests a member may bring to a membership bar, although the law vaguely suggests that guests “constitute a relatively small part of the users of the facility”.

Dues are supposed to be collected annually and the bars keep the fees.

The North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) division ensures that facilities follow membership rules. When a bar is found to be breaking the rule, ALE officers report to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) which determine the sanction: warning, fine and suspension.

Last year, the ABC Commission received 29 reports of membership violations. Fines for 12 of those violations have so far been determined, totaling $13,500.

The DeSoto Lounge in West Asheville isn't just a bar.  It's a

Bar owners can be penalized for not requiring membership or for keeping incomplete membership records. Digital sign-in systems have simplified the process, as staff no longer have to physically store membership files. Similarly, patrons don’t get as many membership cards, but write down their phone numbers on tablets to prove they belong in the bar.

FTA spokeswoman Erin Bean said her department could not ‘comment on the intent’ of the membership law, which was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly there. is 40, but she argued the rule could mitigate unwanted behavior from pubs.

“Memberships remove anonymity from customers, which may deter the urge to commit a violent act or engage in criminal activity on the premises,” she wrote in an email to the USA TODAY Network. . “If a member brings a guest,” she added, “they are ultimately responsible for the behavior or actions of their guests.”

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Some bar owners have recognized the benefits of having patrons’ membership information – their names, dates of birth and phone numbers – on file.

“If there’s been an incident, we know the person,” said Corey Israel of Haywood Country Club. “We can go back into the computer and basically ban them from coming back.”

But still, Israel argued that the benefits do not outweigh the harms.

State Reforms Liquor Laws

Traditionally conservative when it comes to alcohol policy, North Carolina has reformed its approach in recent years.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed a brunch bill which allows alcohol to be sold on Sundays from 10 a.m. The sale of alcohol was previously prohibited before noon on Sundays.

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Then last year the ABC Omnibus Law created more social neighborhoods, expanded alcohol service at outdoor restaurants, and allowed restaurants to order alcohol online from ABC stores.

The Double Crown is one of several bars on West Asheville's busy Haywood Road that requires membership.

The state also recently updated its bar membership requirements. During the 2019-2020 session, the wording of the law was changed to distinguish between for-profit “private bars” and not-for-profit “private clubs”. Before that, there were technically no “bars” in North Carolina, only private clubs.

But even though the wording has changed, the basic requirements remain the same.

Brian Gordon is a statewide reporter for the USA Today Network in North Carolina. Feel free to email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @skyoutbriout


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