Fort Lauderdale may lift sand alcohol ban for hotel guests
FORT LAUDERDALE — For nearly four decades, Fort Lauderdale has banned alcohol on the beach — the sandy section, anyway. But there is now talk of allowing the sale of alcohol on the sand all year round.
Not everyone would be allowed to sip cocktails by the sea.
To indulge in your guilty pleasure, you must be a hotel guest or rent a lounge chair on the beach.
Only hotels — no bars, no restaurants — would be allowed to sell all those chardonnays and pina coladas, from Bahia Mar south of Las Olas to Sunrise Boulevard. Guests could also order food from the hotel menu and have it delivered directly to their lounge chair.
Hotels along A1A are pushing the plan, but some locals think it’s a bad idea.
“Most people won’t just drink one drink, they’ll drink two, three or four,” said Warren Sackler, a resident who lives a block from the beach. “There’s definitely going to be more drama if you let people drink on the beach. The police don’t like babysitting and they’re going to have to deal with it.
Once upon a time, during the scorching hot days of Spring Break, Fort Lauderdale allowed the sale of alcohol on the beach.
It ended 37 years ago when city leaders banned booze on the beach, hoping to attract a more affluent clientele.
Today, fines range from $50 (for first-time offenders) to $500 (for repeat offenders) if you’re caught catching a cold on the sand.
Hotels along the Strip are keen on selling booze to guests while they bury their toes in the sand for a reason: it’s good for business.
Being served next to the waves is simply something today’s sophisticated travelers expect, said Tamas Vago, general manager of the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.
“Many guests feel it’s part of the resort experience,” Vago said. “Over the past 15 years, Fort Lauderdale has evolved from a Spring Break destination to a world-class destination. We have upscale five-star hotels right on the beach. We attract a high-caliber guest who wants that experience. In the hospitality industry, we always try to meet the needs of our customers, because we want them to come back.
Some guests who have traveled extensively have been stunned to learn that they cannot order a chilled glass of wine on the beach, said Mazen Saleh, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences.
“Staying in a five-star hotel, they’ll say, ‘What do you mean, I can’t eat salad on the beach? How do you, I can’t enjoy a glass of wine if I’m sitting on the beach?’ he said.
Former Mayor Jim Naugle said Fort Lauderdale had good reason to ban booze on the beach in 1985.
“There was a lot of underage drinking and rowdiness,” he said. “There were beer cans and trash all over the beach. But times are changing. We don’t have spring break anymore, not like in the 1980s. Rooms are expensive now. It’s not like Panama City.
The plan would likely launch later this year, but only if it gets approval from city leaders.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal in mid-August, with a final vote scheduled for September.
Beachfront hotels would need to get a permit from the city before they can serve guests on the sand. Service would likely be limited to certain hours, say 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mayor Dean Trantalis and the four commissioners embraced the idea during a meeting at City Hall in early July, saying it would help Fort Lauderdale hotels compete in a tough market.
“I think our competitors happen to be beaches in other countries that offer similar services,” Trantalis said. “When people come from Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain who have this equipment, I think a lot of people compare that experience to our experience.”
But the mayor made it clear he didn’t want to see people walking down the beach with their food and drink.
“Alcohol and food should be consumed in this chair,” Trantalis said. “If you want to take your dirty martini to shore, you can’t.”
That rule alone is small consolation to neighboring residents who have listed a long list of inconveniences to allowing alcohol on the beach, said Bill Brown, president of the neighborhood association Central Beach Alliance.
Ask what could go wrong and they’ll tell you.
“I don’t have any pros,” beach resident Paula Yukna said. “I have a lot of inconveniences. Allowing alcohol on the beach is going to bring a lot of problems. Who is going to check ID? What if they order alcohol and distribute it to their 16-year-old friends? Who will prevent people from getting up and walking on the beach?If they drink too much and go into the ocean, lifeguards will be in charge of saving them.
Serving people on the beach will also bring in more trash, Brown said. More litter means more rats – and more pigeons and seagulls scrambling for scraps.
Then there is the issue of fairness.
“You tell me I can’t bring my cooler [of beer] at the beach when the guy next to me gets served just because he’s at the hotel? said Brown. “And restaurants and bars? Why are they not allowed to serve?
Good question, said Peter Ricci, hospitality program director at Florida Atlantic University.
“The concept idea is fantastic,” he said. “It’s good for the economy and for visitors. But I think it’s a bit myopic to only include hotels. I think that’s a bit unfair and biased.
As a former general manager of hotels in Sarasota, Clearwater and Jacksonville, Ricci recalls that guests were served food and drinks on the sand.
“Every city I worked in allowed beach drinks,” Ricci said. “I always thought Fort Lauderdale was too strict.”
Tim Petrillo, owner of the famous Casablanca cafe, says not all restaurants have the staff to run extra service on the beach.
“I don’t know how the other [bars and restaurants] would feel,” he said. “But I can’t randomly assign a waiter to serve food and drinks on the beach.”
Petrillo, who is also chairman of the Broward County Tourism Coalition Board, says he understands the push for upscale resorts to be more competitive.
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“I think we need to have a competitive market for tourism,” he said. “A lot of people take vacations. When you visit Fort Lauderdale, you expect to be able to order a cocktail while gazing at the sea.”
Dan Lindblade, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, said now is the time to change things.
“If you spend that much money on a hotel room, you expect the amenities of a luxury resort,” he said. “You don’t want to be forced to sit by the pool to order food and drink.”
It’s too early to say whether bars and restaurants should also be allowed to serve customers on the sand, Lindblade said.
As for critics who worried about rats, pigeons and litter, Lindblade brushed aside their objections.
“We already have rats and trash,” he said. “Hotels will be in charge of maintaining their spaces and cleaning. These are all storm-in-a-teapot scenarios. It’s a big change. Whenever there is a change, there are always opponents.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan