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A handful of restaurateurs, including Lost Society‘s David Karim and Teatro Goldoni‘s Seyhan Duru, voiced their support this week for Mayor Vincent Gray‘s proposal to extend hours of alcohol service at D.C. bars and restaurants until as late as 4 a.m. on weekends. The mayor’s plan is intended to raise an estimated $5.3 million in revenue from sales taxes at a time when the city is struggling to balance its books. But, if bolstering city coffers is the whole point, then why stop at just brick-and-mortar businesses? Letting the city’s ever-expanding fleet of food trucks operate into the wee hours when bar patrons are spilling out into the street anyway could provide additional financial security for the District.
The timing really couldn’t be better to make this happen. City officials are already hard at work on a slew of new rules to better govern how food trucks operate in D.C. One particular piece of legislation, proposed by Councilmember Jack Evans, would require the trucks to start collecting the same 10 percent sales taxes that traditional restaurants do. Currently, the truckers fork over a flat $1,500 annual fee in lieu of taxes. If Evans’ sales tax bill is implemented, then it seems only fair to level the playing field in terms of hours of operation, too. It just so happens the city is simultaneously fine-tuning the regulations that address those rules, as well.
Right now, food trucks primarily do their business at lunch time. Even if the truckers wanted to cater to late-night crowds, current city rules make this difficult. Under the existing regs, food trucks may operate no later than 10 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. With that system, there is little point to parking along a popular party corridor if you’re going to have to pack things up long before last call. Frankly, from a customer’s standpoint, closing time is probably when local night-crawlers would benefit from greasy carb-loaded street food the most.
The latest draft of proposed food truck regulations, however, makes no effort to expand street-food service later into the night.
If city officials are truly serious about creating a more fair system for both trucks and traditional restaurants—-and making some added cash in the process—-then the regulators should rethink the policy on last call for street vendors, too.
Photo by Chris Shott