Alcohol-license compliance audits on a sample of restaurants and package stores will be conducted annually under a new ordinance approved Dec. 8 by the Atlanta City Council.

The audit regime follows concerns that nightclubs are masquerading as restaurants in Buckhead and other areas of the city and contributing to late-night crime. Such audits are among the tactics mentioned in a recently published “Buckhead Security Plan” created by government officials and local private organizations.

For certain businesses that sell alcohol but do not make most of their sales from it, city code offers exemptions from various restrictions. Those include such strictures as a distance limit from such institutions as schools and churches; a 21-and-older customer policy; and a requirement to close 30 minutes after last call. To qualify, an “eating establishment” must make at least 50% of its gross annual food and beverage sales from prepared meals, and a package store must have less than 5% of its gross receipts from alcohol.

But, according to the council’s ordinance, the city had “no regular method” for checking that businesses operating under those exemptions are in compliance with those limits.

The new order directs the city’s chief financial officer to conduct “annual forensic audits” of no less than 1% of the businesses licensed under such exemptions as of Sept. 30 the previous year. The audit results will be sent to the Atlanta Police Department’s Licenses and Permits Unit for review and enforcement.

If a business is found to be out of compliance, the city can revoke or deny its license to sell alcohol. The business can apply to operate under a different designation.

The ordinance takes effect Jan. 1.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.