Convenience store chain 7-Eleven Canada says it is preparing many of its Ontario shops to serve beer and wine in the store.
The company says it is planning in-store service of a small selection of Ontario-made beer and wine products.
7-Eleven says the beer and wine would be offered during limited hours in designated consumption areas of some Ontario stores.
The retailer says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario is still reviewing its liquor sales licence applications, which were filed after the Ontario government decided to extend beer and wine retailing to convenience stores.
7-Eleven says the alcoholic drinks would complement its push into fresh and hot food, and would build on the chain’s long history of controlling access to age-restricted products.
A statement from the chain says that if the licences come through, staff would take the Smart Serve training program, which is designed for workers who sell, serve, deliver or handle alcohol in Ontario.
“We are committed to meeting the needs of our Ontario customers and we look forward to the opportunity to grow jobs and contribute to the Ontario economy,” the company said in a statement.
The plans to serve alcohol in Ontario may be hard for convenience store patrons to envision – but the Restaurants Canada industry association says it is actually a new take on an old format.
7-Eleven Canada says it is awaiting approval for liquor sales licences that would allow in-store service of beer and wine.
If the 61 licences are approved, 7-Eleven Canada says trained servers would offer the alcoholic beverages during limited hours in designated consumption areas of the shops.
Restaurants Canada vice president James Rilett says that since the convenience store chain is not primarily a restaurant, regulations don’t allow the chain to compete with restaurants by offering takeout alcohol sales.
Rilett, who is vice president of central Canada for the nation’s restaurant advocacy group, says he sees 7-Eleven Canada’s in-store venture as healthy competition – similar to long-standing cafes or delis located in bodegas.
Rilett says that while 7-Eleven will need to come up with safety policies for drivers buying gas, the convenience stores could look to restaurants at rest stops for examples of how to manage alcohol service.
“The restaurant industry is always evolving, and we see this as just another evolution. It’s actually nothing new in many ways,” says Rilett.
“There’ll probably be some hiccups along the way. They’re an innovative company, so hopefully, they’ll be able to address them. It might end up being that some restaurants that don’t have liquor licences now see this as an opportunity to do this as well.”
READ MORE: However, not everyone is supportive of the move. The president of union representing The Beer Store workers criticizes 7-Eleven’s alcohol plan, saying: “The last thing Ontario needs right now as we try to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic is alcohol in convenience stores. It does nothing to rebuild our province. In fact, it threatens our communities even more.”