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Q: I have a restaurant liquor license.  I do not have an extensive food menu.  How much food do I need to have?  How long of a time do I have to offer food?  Can I close the kitchen at any time?  For instance, I open at 3:00 P.M. and only want to keep the kitchen open to 9:00 P.M., but still serve alcoholic beverages until 2:00 A.M.   I do not sell much food after 9:00 P.M.

A: You legally cannot stop serving food after 9:00 P.M.  You must have food available at all times that you are open to the public selling alcoholic beverages.  You may reduce your menu selections later in the evening, but you must still offer food that would constitute a meal even if it is just a ham sandwich.  Therefore, you must have some food available upon request until your closing time.   If you are still serving alcoholic beverages up to 2:00 A.M., keep the kitchen open.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Code mandates that in order to qualify for a restaurant liquor license, you must be a bona fide restaurant.  A restaurant is defined by the Pennsylvania Liquor Code to mean “a reputable place operated by responsible persons of good reputation and habitually and principally used for the purpose of providing food for the public, the place to have an area within a building of not less than four hundred square feet, equipped with tables and chairs, including bar seats, accommodating at least thirty persons at one time.  The Board shall, by regulation, set forth what constitutes tables and chairs sufficient to accommodate thirty persons at one time.”

Regardless of whether you are a full service restaurant or a corner bar, you are considered to be a restaurant first and a provider of alcoholic beverages second.  Therefore, you must have food available at all times that you are open to the public.  If an undercover Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement Officer comes in at 1:00 A.M. and asks for food, you must be able to serve some food or you will be issued a citation.  Also, the law requires that you maintain at all times a minimum of thirty (30) seats throughout your premises which includes both seats at tables and at the bar for patron seating.  The tables and chairs must be set up and available for use by patrons at all times.  They cannot be in storage or stacked up against the wall.

How much food you must offer is a more difficult question to answer.  The law states that the establishment must have an adequate supply of food and sufficient facilities for its storage, preparation and service.  It is clear that you must have some food available to feed thirty (30) people, along with the accompanying utensils (at least 30 plates, knives, forks and spoons) to serve the food.  However, does this mean that you can just keep thirty hot dogs and rolls in your cupboard and nothing else?  You probably would barely comply.  The amount and type of food offered by a restaurant licensee depends on the circumstances,

As seen in the Observer Magazine, a monthly beverage journal magazine. Edward Taraskus contributes the Know the Law column.