Fans of Mellow Mushroom’s beer menu have lost an outlet to express their enthusiasm, at least in Alabama.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently informed the Atlanta-based pizza chain that its beer clubs program goes against state rules governing the sale of alcohol.
David Peacock, an ABC Board attorney, said the program ran counter to a rule that says retailers “cannot have any kind of inducement to encourage on-premise alcohol consumption.”
Mellow Mushroom’s 148 franchises in 17 states, mostly in the Southeast, are known for offering a wide selection of beer, especially craft brands. That’s true also at its 14 Alabama locations. (A 15th is planned for Decatur, according to the company’s website.)
A representative at Mellow Mushroom’s Atlanta headquarters declined to comment for this story.
The clubs have different guidelines at each location, but typically offer T shirts, mugs, and recognition on a plaque for customers who register and order a certain number of the varieties of beer offered.
Terry Phillis Sr., general manager of the chain’s Oxford franchise, said word came down from the corporate office to end the program “three or four weeks ago” after it had run for about two years.
Customers in the Oxford beer club were promised souvenir mugs and the inclusion of their names on a board at the restaurant for trying 45 of the 125 beers on the menu.
Phillis said he didn’t think the program encouraged customers to drink any more beer than they would have otherwise, but instead to try something different.
“It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it,” he said of the ABC Board rule.
Peacock said the rule barring the clubs is in Alabama Administrative Code, Section 20-X-6-.12. That section prohibits retailers from offering “anything of value as a premium or present, to induce the purchase of such alcoholic beverages, or for any other purpose whatsoever in connection with the sale of such alcoholic beverages.”
“That regulation is pretty specific,” Peacock said.
Phillis said customers in Oxford have been upset by the move, but have directed their ire at regulators rather than Mellow Mushroom.
“They’re all very disappointed,” he said. He said he had no quarrel with ABC Board employees enforcing the rule, who he said have been helpful in training restaurant staff to serve alcohol responsibly.
“We’re definitely not trying to entice people to drink more than they should,” Phillis said. “We take great care.”