Just having food on your bar's menu may not be enough to qualify as a "bar that serves food." The variety and quantity of offerings makes a difference.

Indiana’s Back On Track Roadmap includes a confusing phrase – “bar that serves food” –  as part of the delineation of the businesses able to open in Stage Two versus Stage Four. The Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission released some important information through a FAQ release to help clarify that phrase, and when your business would be able to open once more.

What is a “bar area?”

The bar area for the purposes of Executive order 20-26 is the counter over which drinks are served.  During Stage 2, this area should be for employees only.  Chairs should be removed or marked as unavailable.  Ordering, serving, and consuming food and drinks for on-premises consumption is prohibited in this area.  To the extent that this area is being used for ordering and serving of carryout food orders, a business may continue to do this while following the CDC guidelines.

https://www.in.gov/atc/2854.htm

So it’s the bar top itself that is the “bar area.” What does this mean for your Back On Track plan? In short, during Stage Two, your bar top will remain closed; you cannot sell or serve anything across the bar top itself. My recommendation would be to pull all of your bar stools and put them in storage, or put them someplace else in your facility.

An interesting question arising from this: as you’ll likely be doing a brisk carry out business, could you allow guests to sit at the bar while waiting for a carry out order? The short answer is yes, but you have to be very careful about this. There can be no service across that bar top, so you can’t even give them a glass of water while they are waiting. They could not purchase a beverage and enjoy it while waiting on their carry out order; there can be no service across that bar top.

What is a bar or tavern that must remain closed under Paragraph 10. e. during Stage 2?

A bar or tavern is a premises that prohibits the entry of anyone under the age of twenty-one and is not in the business of providing in-person full dining service. A business that merely meets the minimum food requirements outlined in 905 IAC 1-20-1 of having hot soups, hot sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and milk available does not qualify to open for on-premises sales during stage 2.

https://www.in.gov/atc/2854.htm

So what is a “bar that serves food” versus a bar? Here’s where the ATC is going to draw a line: a bar or tavern that must remain closed during Stage Two if it prohibits entry of anyone under the age of 21 and is not in the business of providing in-person full dining service. They go on to say, just having the minimum amount of food that any bar would have does not qualify as in-person full dining service.

So the word “and” is key here. Just being an establishment that does not allow people under the age of 21 does not automatically disqualify you; it’s half of the equation. The other half is not being in the business of providing in-person, full dining service.

But that phrase creates a new gray area. What is “in-person full dining service?” Thankfully, the Indiana ATC also clarified that.

What is “in-person full dining service?”

In-person full dining service is a menu with specific, dedicated courses and a wide selection of foods and beverages.  Merely meeting the minimum food requirements outlined in 905 IAC 1-20-1 of having hot soups, hot sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and milk available is not enough for in-person full dining service.

https://www.in.gov/atc/2854.htm

In-person, full service dining is a menu with specific, dedicated courses and a wide selection of food and beverages. Again, the minimum food requirements are not enough.

So it’s still a gray area. There’s still a complicating factor that it doesn’t specify how wide of a selection. It doesn’t specify what specific and dedicated courses, but at the end of the day it’s giving us a guideline. If all you offer is a couple of very specific food items, a soup, a sandwich, coffee, milk, soft drinks, in order to meet the bare minimum of Indiana statute on food service for alcohol serving establishments, then you will need to be closed until June 14th.

If you are a restaurant that has a multi-page menu and you have appetizers, entrees, salad, dessert – a number of sections to your menu – you more than likely will qualify as a restaurant or a “bar that serves food.”

The gray area is going to come in the middle. Now, there are thousands of establishments here in the State of Indiana, hundreds of thousands across the country. Every single one has different menus with different offerings, and there is no magic formula that says your menu is good, or your menu is not.

If you have a question or concern, reach out to your local restaurant association or reach out to your local alcoholic beverage board and ask the question: “What is the bare minimum for me to be able to open?” Is my menu enough to qualify me as in person full service dining?

This is table service, not bar service.

Another thing that you need to be cognizant of: this is designed for service at a table. So if you are a “bar that serves food,” make sure that you are not serving beverage alcohol at other areas in your establishment. Make sure you’re not doing cocktail sections. Make sure you’re not doing standing-room types of service.

Guests need to be seated at a table, with service from a server. Those tables need to be spaced six feet apart. You need to have social distancing in place. There’s also a restriction, at least here in Indiana and many other jurisdictions as well, regarding party size. In the state of Indiana, you cannot have more than six people at a table during Stage Two, so if you have a party of 10, they would need to separate into two tables, and those tables would need to be six feet apart. If you have a party of six they can obviously be at one table, but a party of seven would need to split up.

This sounds draconian and inconvenient. Something we would never do in the hospitality industry. And those sentiments are absolutely true, but there’s also a responsibility that we have to follow the process to help this country, help our state, help our neighborhoods, get back to a sense of normality. To help us all be able to get back to where we want to be. And it means that we’re going to have to follow a process to get there. We’re not going to like every restriction that comes along. But at the same time, we also need to follow the guidelines that are set before us.

Live entertainment – what is and what isn’t allowed.

Can patrons play pool or billiards at a premises during stage 2?
Is pub trivia permitted during Stage 2?
Yes. As long as the premises is providing in-person full dining service, limiting capacity to 50% of seating capacity, screening staff for COVID-19 symptoms, requiring all employees and staff to wear face coverings, spacing tables at least 6 feet apart, and seating customers in groups of 6 people or less.

https://www.in.gov/atc/2854.htm

A couple of other interesting questions that come up along this line, especially if you’re a bar that serves food: let’s say that you have other entertainment options. Live entertainment is not allowed; that is spelled out quite plainly. The Indiana ATC also specified disc jockeys and karaoke to be live entertainment, so those cannot be offered in Stage Two.

But what if you have pool tables? What if you do trivia nights? Those are engaging to be sure, but do they qualify as live entertainment according to the ATC? Short answer: no.

Are you permitted to play pool or billiards? Are you allowed to do pub trivia? Yes, as long as the premises is providing in person full dining service, again, it still has to be a restaurant or a “bar that serves food.” Bars need to be closed until June 14th, there’s no getting around that. You do have to limit your capacity 50% as is in the statute. You also have to be doing all the screenings and everything else. But assuming that you’re going according to plan, yes, you can have pool tables, you can have pub trivia available during your normal service day.

Leave a Reply