The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has thrown a wet blanket of sorts on the solutions some bars and restaurants have devised in their effort to continue operating under Gov. Tom Wolf’s updated restrictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new restrictions took effect last week amid a surge in the number of new cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania. They include things like temporary bans on bar seating and the sale of alcoholic beverages only. So, instead of just a shot and a beer, customers must now buy a shot, a beer and some type of meal to consume along with their drinks.
After the restrictions took effect July 16, many bars and other establishments around the state that normally don’t serve food began to require customers to purchase snacks like chips or pretzels as a way of remaining open, even at reduced capacity.
However, the PLCB issued a series of clarifications to state liquor licensees Wednesday, which among other things stipulate that snacks do not meet the definition of a “meal.”
“The term ‘meal’ is defined in section 406 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code as ‘food prepared on the premises, sufficient to constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner,'” the agency said in a news release. “The definition expressly states that a snack, such as pretzels, popcorn, chips or similar food, does not meet the definition of a meal.”
Another significant clarification the PLCB made concerns whether additional drinks may be consumed before and after meals, in addition to while food is being consumed.
“Additional drinks may be purchased while the customer is consuming the meal, but no further drinks may be purchased after the meal is finished,” the news release said.
Perhaps one bit of good news for Pennsylvania breweries, wineries and other manufacturers of alcoholic beverages is that food trucks and other outside food vendors will allow them to satisfy the requirement as long as they are present.
A local brewpub co-owner, Kenny Rampolla of Lost Tavern Brewing in Hellertown, told Channel 69 News earlier this week that if the tavern doesn’t have a food truck lined up, it may have to close for the evening, which he said could cause confusion for customers.
Other clarifications issued by the PLCB regarding the heightened restrictions on bars and restaurants include the following:
- A group of customers who wish to consume alcohol on premises may do so as long as a meal is part of the purchase made by the group.
- Casinos may no longer provide drink service on casino floors.
- If a club does not sell food, either directly or through a concessionaire, it cannot use its liquor license.
Enforcement of the state order is being handled by the PLCB, the Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania State Police, who announced Wednesday that an Allentown area licensed establishment was issued a notice of violation by Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement officers earlier this week.
“For restaurants and bars, social distancing, mask-wearing and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons,” the PLCB said in its news release. “In addition, occupancy is limited to 25 percent of the fire-code maximum occupancy for indoor dining, or 25 persons for a specific indoor event or gathering in a restaurant. The maximum occupancy limit includes staff.”