Free At Last: Tennessee Removes Food Service Requirement for Liquor Licenses

Free At Last: Tennessee Removes Food Service Requirement for Liquor Licenses

Huge news for bar, music venue and night club owners in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and other Tennessee cities.  A new liquor license allows bar owners to get out of the pesky business of trying to show the ABC that you sell enough food.

The new law is the culmination of years of work to legitimize bars in Tennessee.  A decade ago, all Tennessee bars were licensed as restaurants, ostensibly selling 50% food.  The ABC essentially looked the other way and issued $1,500 fines each month for bars that were "caught" selling less than 50% food.

A few years ago, a new liquor license was adopted that allowed bars to sell as little as 15% food, for a larger license fee.  Problem was, some bars could not meet 15%.  Concert venues, blues bars on Beale Street and Honky Tonks in Nashville are not places where customers seek out food.

Last year, the legislature removed the food service requirement for several music venues.  Removing food service was controversial and we wondered if a no food liquor license would move forward this year.  We blogged about this last week.

Fat Boy Slim understands the importance of food in the party culture:

Like eating, sleeping

The new liquor license adds a new category to the limited service restaurant license, for establishments that sell 0 to 15% food.  The new license fee is $5,000.  A copy of the bill is here.

We hear Tennessee Hospitality Association attorney Matt Scanlan really went to bat for bar owners and deserves a big thanks.

The new law does not remove the requirement that "A menu of prepared food is made available to patrons."  The Tennessee ABC has construed this requirement to require that bars have a kitchen on premises to prepare food.  The Tennessee ABC is opposed to bars bringing in food prepared off site, from delivered pizzas to BBQ smoked off site.

Eliminating the kitchen requirement would have made it quite a bit more affordable to open a bar in Tennessee.  Alas, the new law may reduce the food sales requirement, but it does not seem to eliminate the requirement that bars have a kitchen and offer food for sale.


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