Pennsylvania restaurant and bar owners are in a tizzy over a new set of rules laid down by the Wolf administration on Wednesday designed to check the spread of the coronavirus.
One aspect, a limit of “25% of stated fire-code maximum occupancy for indoor dining, or 25 persons for a discrete indoor event or gathering in a restaurant,” has them positively steaming. (This applies to restaurants outside of Philadelphia, which does not allow indoor dining.)
Another rule, applicable to all 67 counties, has many of them confused: “Alcohol only can be served for on-premises consumption when in the same transaction as a meal.”
This means that food now must be ordered with alcohol. This affects the corner bars, private clubs, Legion posts, and the like that traditionally allowed patrons to while away an afternoon chugging beers and watching the TV. (By law, all Pennsylvania bars always have had to simply offer food. Now the state has gone another step.)
The bigger question is: What’s a meal?
Restaurateurs and bar owners have been calling elected officials, trading info online, and reading blogs to suss out the answer. Much is at stake, because the Pennsylvania State Police, which enforces the liquor laws, has been spot-inspecting establishments for COVID-19 compliance.
We’ll go to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code itself — 47 P.S. § 4-406(e) — which defines a meal as “food prepared on the premises, sufficient to constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner; it shall not mean a snack, such as pretzels, popcorn, chips, or similar food.”