Banff looks to allow food sampling
An age-old retail practice of enticing people into restaurants by offering them free food samples outside is getting the official stamp of approval in Banff – as long as it’s on private property.
Until now the issue has fallen into a grey area in Banff’s bylaws, as some restaurants have hosts and hostesses on the sidewalks offering free samples to lure customers inside.
But new wording in the amending Land Use Bylaw would essentially allow businesses to hand out food and drink samples only outside of their own building, and not on public lands, unless otherwise stated by council policy.
“I don’t think McDonald’s should be able to give out free smoothies in front of The Keg, or Starbucks give out free coffee in front of the Cake Company, but I think they should be able to give free samples,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
“I want Saltlik to be able to hand out their bacon-wrapped scallops to lure people inside, but only if they are standing in front of their own building. It’s about animation and vibrancy.”
The amending bylaw, which was before council for debate on Monday (May 28), indicates no merchandise, goods or wares shall be placed or distributed on public lands, unless authorized by council policy.
But goods and wares can also relate to retail activity, and administration had recommended banning business from distributing consumable items and goods and wares outside a building.
Darren Enns, Banff’s senior planner, said the practice of distributing samples is mainly used by the eating and drinking sector to lure people inside their restaurants – but he questioned what the next step might be.
“We see, for example, one of the tea operators will start distributing samples on the public right-of-way, and then the other tea operator does it too,” he said.
“My question is, when do we see visitors being asked to try on a T-shirt? Do you want to walk down Banff Avenue and have 100 stores trying to give you a T-shirt?” he added.
“I’m not sure that’s what we want to see in the downtown. That’s perhaps not something desirable for Banff Avenue.”
Councillor Paul Baxter said getting food samples adds character to the townsite.
“I’ve yet to be offered a free T-shirt,” he said. “This an age-old retail practice.”
Coun. Stavros Karlos said he did not believe this issue even needed to be addressed in the Land Use Bylaw.
“This isn’t the minister’s businesses, this is community business,” he said. “I think we can come up with policy to deal with this.”
Enns said the next step will involve drafting a council policy on the issue, similar to the sidewalk seating policy.
“This will enable us to craft a policy about where it’s OK and not OK,” said Enns. “It will give the community more certainty around this.”
Council passed first reading of the amending LUB in early May. They did not get through to second reading May 28, forcing them to tentatively schedule a special council meeting on June 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
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