Update on SLA FAQs on New Food Requirements

As previously reported, the State Liquor Authority posted FAQs about the new food requirement which can be viewed here.

Our discussions with the SLA today offer these additional clarifications:

Food from outside sources is still permissible to meet the food requirement providing the licensee has the appropriate food available to meet the requirement. Allowing this will make it more difficult to prove compliance with the food requirement, especially after the food is consumed.

The requirement for your patrons to purchase food has been relaxed so that you may provide food complimentary to your patrons. The SLA strongly encourages you to take an “order” for the food even if offered at no charge so there is a record of your compliance with the food requirement. Although you may provide food without charge, the Department of Health rules still prohibit communal foodservice such as buffets, so any complimentary food items need to served to each separate party (it’s okay for people in the same group to share food – can’t share with others).

Counter service is now permitted provided it’s consistent with your normal method of operation. If you’ve always had customers come to a counter of some sort (including the bar, host station, etc.) to place an order, pick up an order, pay the check, or something similar you can do that under the new rules. This applies to your entire business or only a portion of your premises such as an outdoor area – if you have table service inside and counter service outside you can continue to use counter service outside. Read the SLA rules on counter service carefully to make sure you comply.

Perhaps the most important part of the FAQs the Liquor Authority posted is this admonition to licensees:

“As a restaurant and bar owner interested in continuing to assist in our shared public health goal, you should not be looking for ways to circumvent the dining or meal requirement nor the purpose behind it, as it jeopardizes the public health and the progress all New Yorkers have made.  Obvious efforts to circumvent will be treated as violations of the Executive Order.”

The Liquor Authority is focused on bad actors – licensees that are not following the rules often in spite of several warnings. Your responsiveness to concerns or complaints could determine how the SLA responds.

The new FAQs do not answer our question about the different food requirements for different licensees. The FAQs state in several places that “the purpose of this policy is to ensure that patrons are enjoying a sit-down dining experience, and not a drinking or bar-type experience which often tends to be problematic from a public health perspective.” We’ve asked a simple question – what is the public health rationale for treating the same activity in a bar, brewery, or club differently? We’re continuing to pursue the answer – stay tuned.