Pa Liquor Control Board Orders Alcoholic Beverage Licensees to Suspend On-site Food & Beverage Consumption

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By Frank C. Sluzis, Esq.

On Wednesday, March 18, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced the exercise of its authority, with authorization from the Governor, to mandate that all retail licensees, clubs, permittees, and producers must cease the sale of food and alcohol for on-premises consumption, effective at 8:00 PM Wednesday, March 18 and until further notice, in the interest of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and mitigating the unprecedented public health crisis the commonwealth faces.

According to the PLCB, any licensee that fails to comply with this mandate now risks citation by the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement and suspension of operating authority by the PLCB. Any licensee that continues to operate after its license is suspended risks further enforcement action and closure by the BLCE. Ultimately, citations may put the business’s liquor license at risk, both through the citation process and upon application for renewal to the PLCB.

According to the PLCB, upon authorization from the Governor, it has the authority under the Liquor Code (47 P.S. §4-462) to mandate the closure of licensed establishments in times of emergency. However, it is important to note that the PLBC is not mandating the closure of licensed establishments; it is mandating a significant curtailment of their otherwise lawful business functions; it’s not a closure order.

Impacts of this mandate on specific license types, effective March 18, 2020, at 8 p.m., are as follows:

  • Restaurant, retail dispenser and hotel licensees may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises. Sales to go are still permitted, as are hotel sales of food and alcohol for consumption in a private room.
  • Licensees holding wine expanded permits authorizing the sale of wine to go may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises. Sales to go are still permitted, as are the operation of a grocery store, convenience store or gas station next to the licensed premises.
  • Airport restaurant license holders may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises. Sales to go are still permitted.
  • Clubs and catering clubs may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises, and such licensees are not authorized to sell any alcohol to go. They may continue selling food to go.
  • Permittees including special occasion, off-premise catering, exposition and farmers markets may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises or at public gatherings.
  • Breweries, distilleries/limited distilleries, and limited wineries may not allow the service or consumption of food or alcohol on the licensed premises. Sales of the producer’s own alcohol for off premises consumption is permitted.
  • Sacramental wine licensees may not allow food or beverage consumption on premise but may sell sacramental wine for consumption off premise.

Additionally, according to the PLCB it has received a number of inquiries as to how beer distributors should react to what it refers to as the, “business closure guidance-”- although again, it’s not a closure order. The PLCB is not limiting distributors’ operations at this time, but beer distributors are strongly encouraged to employ social distancing best practices and avoid public gatherings of 10 or more people.

Complaints regarding licensees not complying with these mandates may be directed to the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement at 1-800-932-0602 or reported through the BLCE’s online complaint form.

According to the PLCB will constantly re-evaluate this policy, guided by the strategy developed by the Governor’s Office and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and lift restrictions at the appropriate time.

If you are a licensee under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, you are welcome to contact Scaringi Law and consult with our liquor license attorney, who himself is a former chief prosecutor at the PLCB, about this PLCB emergency order or any other matter you have concerning your license or business.

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