If you want to order a to-go cocktail from a New York bar or restaurant, you’ll have to pony up for some soup, a sandwich, a salad or something “substantial,” according to new guidelines passed by the State Liquor Authority.
The SLA held an emergency meeting late Monday morning to approve new guidelines for the restaurant industry, two days after Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers finalized a $220 billion state budget that immediately allowed restaurants to serve sealed alcoholic drinks – including cocktails – with takeout orders.
A law passed as part of the budget requires customers to purchase a “substantial food item” in order to get a drink. But it didn’t define what “substantial” meant, forcing the SLA to define the term itself. The updated guidelines further crystallize the measure that some initially considered vague.
Here’s where they landed: Soups, sandwiches, salads, chicken wings and hot dogs are all substantial regardless if they’re “fresh, processed, precooked or frozen.” A bag of chips, candy or a “handful of lettuce”? Not substantial.
The guidance goes on to make clear that “a bag of chips, bowl of nuts, or candy alone” do not make the cut. It does not weigh in on whether french fries are substantial or not.
“Obvious efforts to circumvent the law, for example an unreasonably small portion of soup, a serving of canned beans, a handful of lettuce, or charging a small extra fee for an alcoholic beverage in lieu of a food item not actually ordered or delivered will be treated as a violation of the law,” the guidance reads.
Violating the measure could result in an establishment having its liquor license suspended or revoked following a hearing, according to the measure.
The new guidance mirrors similar rules the SLA issued in 2020, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo temporarily allowed restaurants to serve drinks to go with a food purchase during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
Back then, restaurants and bars started offering $1 orders of self-named items like “Cuomo chips” to try to circumvent a similar rule requiring food purchases with any drink order, which in turn forced the SLA to issue guidance making clear food orders had to be “substantial.”
The new budget, meanwhile, also banned restaurants from selling bottles of liquor or wine with takeout orders, but didn’t explicitly include a limit on the size of to-go drinks.
The SLA’s new guidance tries to tackle that issue by defining a bottle as something purchased from a wholesaler that comes in a “bottle, box, can, or other similar container.” It specifically bans restaurants and bars from simply pouring a bottle into a new container as a way to circumvent the requirement.
At Monday’s emergency meeting, Lily Fan, a commissioner with the SLA, asked whether the authority would be soliciting public input before it acted, which prompted Chairman Vincent Bradley to say the authority did so – by asking for input on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday.
“I don’t know if you are actually on social media, so you may not be aware of it, but we’ve received a lot of input and a lot of it was due to our request,” Bradley said to Fan. “In response to our request that was made on social media, we received dozens of comments that we read, and we appreciate the public as well as the industry’s input.”
Fan ultimately voted for the guidance, recognizing that the SLA had to act quickly because the new law already took effect Saturday.
“Obviously, we need to do something now, and using existing, familiar language makes sense to me,” she said. “We can take other public comments as we go.”