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Indoor Dining and Alcohol Sales

The hospitality industry continues to struggle financially during the national COVID-19 health crisis and the government’s attempts to control the spread of the deadly virus.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board issued an updated guidance regarding the Governor’s various orders on January 4th, 2021 to all licensees.

One topic covered by the updated guidance are the guidelines for the resumption of indoor dining and the service of alcoholic beverages, which restaurant licensees must strictly follow.

Licensees who are offering indoor seating for dining and desiring to sell alcohol beverages must provide a meal for consumption on the premises in order to sell alcoholic beverages. The Pennsylvania Liquor Code gives a broad definition of what comprises a meal, as one being sufficient to constitute a breakfast, lunch or dinner. Is this a grey area? Yes, but licensees just have to use common sense. Think sandwiches, pizza, steak platters, etc. The meal has to be prepared on the licensee’s premises.

The Liquor Code however further explicitly states that snack foods, such as pretzels, potato chips and similar snack items do not constitute a meal.

The customer must purchase and consume the meal on the premises in order to be able to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages on licensed premises. Customers may not be served and consume alcoholic beverages on the licensed premises while waiting for a meal to be prepared for take-out. The meal has to be consumed on the licensee’s premises for alcohol to be served. Additional drinks may be purchased and served during the meal. Once the meal is consumed by the patron or a group of the patrons the patron’s dining group, sales and service of alcohol beverages must stop. It is as simple as that. The patron cannot linger after consuming the meal at the table and still purchase and consume alcoholic beverages.

Licensees may only provide food and alcoholic beverages to patrons seated at tables. There may not be any service of food and alcoholic beverages to customers for consumption at a bar.

The time for stopping sales of alcoholic beverages is strict. 11:00 pm is the time when sales of alcoholic beverages for on premises consumption must stop. 12:00 am, midnight is when the patrons have to finish consuming their drinks. No alcoholic beverages may be in the possession of the patrons past midnight. Licensees, however, can serve food until their legal closing time.

Licensees may continue to make sales of alcoholic beverages for off premises consumption or “to go” such as beer, cocktails and wine. Beer to go sales must end at 2:00 am and mixed drinks to go and wine to go must end at 11:00 pm.

Licensees must constantly update themselves and their staff by reviewing the guidelines, directives and notices issued by the PLCB and their local municipalities since the directives and notices are subject to change depending upon the COVID-19 circumstances. Failure to keep current may subject licensees to a citation issued by the Pa State Police BLCE for violations of the directive.

Licenses should consult with the PLCB and their attorneys as to directives and notices.

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