Thursday, May 14, 2009

Liquor Replacement and Dollar Coins

I paid for my restaurant meal and the receipt said, printed at the bottom, that 25% went to the Liquor Replacement Fund. I was puzzled by this for a while, and then a barely visible sign on the door of the restaurant gave me a clue and a hypothesis. The sign said that this was a private club and that alcohol would be served only to registered members. My guess is that this is thr remnant of a very old local liquor law, that everyone has worked around instead of changing. I speculate that by putting my name on the list for a table, I was registering as a member of the "club." And that the notice at the bottom of the receipt explained that I wasn't exactly purchasing liquor, but rather being served liquor from my private club's reserves. And that the restaurant wasn't taking a profit but rather saving the money to buy more liquor for the members.

Liquor laws can be funny. Some places in Canada you can't serve alcohol without "a meal" so in those places you can buy the most minimal meals known to man. You can collect ten bucks from a bunch of people to buy a few cases of beer, but if you then put them in the fridge with a can on top and ask people to contribute a few coins towards the next case for every beer they drink, you'll get in trouble for selling beer without a licence. At least some places. The laws can be quaint.

When I say "a few coins," I mean more money than I might if I were talking about American coins. Canada doesn't mint one or two dollar bills. We used to, years ago, but now we have one and two dollar coins instead. So when I'm working with money, looking to pay for a cup of coffee or expecting change from something, it's natural for me to go for the coin purse not the billfold for amounts under five dollars. When I first get back to Canada I'm momentarily surprised by getting a handful of coins as change from a ten for a small purchase.

The US does have one dollar coins. I got several once as change from a stamp machine. And they have two dollar bills. I decided to use them. I went to a bank in Texas with a twenty dollar bill and asked for ten ones and five twos. The teller managed to scavenge seven ones from her own and another teller's drawer, but denied having any twos in the whole bank. Well so much for that plan. I took my metal ones, and the rest in paper ones. I can get more coins from post office stamp machines.

Using the US dollar coins isn't a problem with people. The reaction is usually one of slight positive surprise and "hey cool" scrutiny of my proffered dollar. No one has refused a coin or asked me to give them a banknote instead, but I get the idea there are a few people who have never seen one. I read that when Canada introduced the loonie, our one dollar coin, they made sure to mint tonnes of the things to overwhelm the "hey cool" response that would cause people to keep the first few they met as a souvenir. Perhaps the reverse effect helped to cement the switch: people hoarded their last few dollar bills as souvenirs, hastening their withdrawal from circulation.

I can see a reason why the dollar coins might be unpopular in the US. You can't use them in vending machines. A newspaper cost a dollar. The box says "Use Any Coin Combination - Do Not Use Pennies." What the box means is "use any combination of quarters, dimes and nickels." The dollar coin shown doesn't fit in the slot.

Because the denominations of commonly circulating US coins hasn't changed in over a hundred years, but prices have, vending machines compensate in other ways. Many US vending machines accept banknotes. You unfold any bent corners and line up the picture of the president on the bill with the picture on the slot. The machine feeds in the bill, whirrrs it back and forth a couple of times and spits out your chocolate bar and a pile of quarters. If the machine doesn't take bills, there will often be a change machine nearby. There are change machines in Canada, but not as commonly, and of course they spit loonies.


Jim Mantle said...

Aviatrix, you're too young to remember when Ontario had the hotel bars separated into a men's only section, and a Ladies&Escorts section (apparently women were not allowed to drink alone). You can still see the neon signs on some seedy old hotels in Northern Ontario.

And there is the cheese sandwich. Bars could not serve alcohol-only on a Sunday, so the first patron of the day ordered the least expensive item on the menu (usually a cheese sandwich). It was not consumed, and when the patron departed the staff left the sandwich on the table, so the next patrons could come in and drink, with a plausible food&alcohol justification should the local constabulary come in and investigate.

All of this was as recently as the sixties.

dpierce said...

I somehow ended up with a stack of dollar coins once, and made an honest attempt to use them and embrace them. It failed.

They're about the same size and weight as a quarter, and I mistakenly tried to pass them as quarters more than once (especially when it's dark). It also violates the simple logic of "integer dollars go in the wallet, cents go in the pocket". When trying to calculate how many dollars you have, it's a pain to have to check both pocket and wallet. Plus, there's something that soothes my OCD nature to keep my bills neatly sorted in order in my wallet.

And yeah, it doesn't help that vending machines won't take them and they confuse cashiers.

In England, I find it annoying that carrying around 10 one pound coins requires you to tighten your belt an extra notch.

GregoryJ said...

In the factory I work in, (in Kentucky) the change machines give out golden dollars. And all of the vending machines accept them.

jinksto said...

Recent dollar coins are better but the previous attempt was a horrible failure. Mostly because they were close enough to the size a quarter that many vending machines WOULD accept them as quarters. It doesn't take many accidents for people to decide that they're tired of paying 4 times as much as they should have for a newspaper. Then it wasn't a problem of clerks not accepting the coins but a problem of customers refusing the coins as change.

Anonymous said...

The old dollar coin (from 1979) were a failure, because it was almost the same size as a quarter, and looked very, very similar to one too. If you paid with one, odds were it would be counted as a quarter. The new coin is somewhat better in that respect, and it's a bit less rare. I mostly get them from ticket vending machines at train stations, so I suspect they're more common in cities that have such things. When it was first introduced though, it really confused some people. I tried paying with one and the store person said "we don't take canadian money", and I had to point out where it says UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on the coin. I get the feeling that they didn't really believe me even then.

Daniel said...

I know of a club not too far from here (Manchester, UK) where they keep a frozen burger in the back room, priced at £200 ($355 Canadian) to allow them to comply with alcohol licensing restrictions.

steve said...

UK coinage is all different, though some coins have ben downsozed some 30 years after the new decimal coins' introduction. the original decimal set was distinctly different in terms of size/weight /shape/edge-finish,from the L.S. D currency

The reason is really quite obvious-
The blind are able to distinguish between them -for the same reason, we have different sizes for different denominations of banknotes .

The Royal Mint consults with various organisations representing the blind, before instiagting changes.

Where alcohol is concerned, some licensed clubs allow guests but they may NOT purchase alcohol.....unlike your restaurant, 24 hours has to elapse between "joining" and the membership becoming "legal"...our legislators obviously foresaw the loophole the Canadians missed!

Richard said...

There were, of course, the massive silver dollars (remember the days when the little line at the top centre of the US note read, not "FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE" byt "SILVER CERTIFICATE"?) and then there were the early ones like quarters, which Joe Public didn't like, so, given that coin is NOT issued on "sale or return" they were shipped over to Germany, where the uniformed community had no choice but to be given them in change by AAFES.

Here, in Scotland, of course, we still have £1 notes (although they are gently going out of circulation, to be replaced by the ubiquitous English £1 and £2 coins.

A Canadian (well, Newfoundlander!) visitor, gabve me, recently, a couple of Canadian $2 coins - the older had the same Queen's head that our coins of the same vintage had, but the newer one had a *much* kinder one than our current head. Well done the Canadian Mint!

Aviatrix said...

The "Liquor Replacement Fee" was in Texas, not Canada. We have our own bizarre liquor laws. My hypothesis about having joined a private club when I sat down is not confirmed. I'm still hoping an informed Texan will weigh in with an answer. It was at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, if that makes a difference.

Ward said...

The US$2 bill isn't really rare, but even though they're regularly printed, there's never been a push to get businesses to use them:

When they phased out the C$2 bill, we were running a small store and we saved a big stack of bills. Not sure if they'll ever be worth anything, but it only represents a couple hundred bucks tied up, in case they do appreciate.

The only place I ever saw the US Susan B. Anthony dollar was in casinos in Vegas - they used them a lot.

dpierce said...

According to a buddy who used to live in Houston, the restaurant might've registered as a private club so that (depending on the county) they could serve alcohol late, they could serve alcohol in a dry county, or they could serve mixed drinks. He says likely you were (legally) a 'guest' of the manager, or 'temporary member'.

Since alcohol at private clubs isn't necessarily sold, it is instead taxed on the club's purchases to replace stock by volume purchased. The 'tax' you paid was an amount calculated by the restaurant to, on average, cover this replacement tax.

I don't know how good that info is -- it was hallway BS.

Anonymous said...

This conversation on the similarity of US coinage, and how the old $1 coin and the quarter were similar in size and easy to mistakenly interchange and therefore not popular.

I have that struggle with paper US currency,,, it's all the same size and colour -- one needs to be very careful with it. In some countries the paper money is diferent sizes for different denominations. In Canada, different denominations are different colours.

N6349C at KTKI said...

Probably correct. When I first moved to Dallas back in early 1980's, you couldn;t get a drink in a restaurant unless you joined the club. Usually it was $2 for the membership and the first drink free. THen the individual memberships became free, but you had to carry a bunch of paper cards around. Then someone came up with universal club, so I only had one card, and eventually your TX drivers license became your membership. Then everyone gave up.

What you experienced was almost certainly a remnant of the old laws. You still can't buy a bottle of beer or wine on Sunday before noon, and can't get anything stronger at all. It used to be all the shops were closed on Sunday, until Sears discovered they made more profits than they paid in fines. Now everyone except Chick-fil-A is open on Sunday - I kind of respect them for that.

Scott Johnson said...

Does one properly say that bills or notes are "minted," or does that term apply only to coins?

Scoon said...

I once heard a rumour that in Canada, as well as the loonie some people refer to the $2 coin as a 'two-nie', so if you needed $3 you could ask someone for a 'loonie-two-nie' lol

Also, speaking of Her Royal Highness (or 'Madge' to us Aussies), there were a few ruffled feathers amongst the monarchists a couple of years ago when we decided to replace the traditional portrait of Madge on our coins with an 'older' version in which she has a double chin and wrinkles. Strange decision, really, as on the $5 notes she still looks about 20!

Aviatrix said...

Pretty much everyone calls it a toonie, even the mint finally did. They won't call 1, 5, 10 or 25-cent pieces by the names of the equivalent American coins, even though everyone else does.

I haven't heard anyone ask for a loonie toonie, but it's pretty common for someone to say something like "all I have is loonies and toonies, lets see if I have enough."

Anonymous said...

Madge? We call 'er "Brenda".

Euro coins are more interesting than most: kids try to collect the set and then they let some more countries in. I got a Luxembourg one in Portugal, might spend it in Poland.

Anonymous said...

"I got a Luxembourg one in Portugal, might spend it in Poland."

Won't be very useful there! Poland uses the zloty (Polish florin), NOT the Euro.