Food requirements liquor license


Bars, restaurants, catering establishments, and other businesses holding licenses from the State of New York to serve alcohol are required to offer food. The level of food service and number of offerings varies by license class.

Not interested in offering food to your customers? Well, you better become interested in it. And fast. Believe us when we tell you the New York State Liquor Authority takes these requirements seriously.

Violations of the food rules in the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Law should be avoided at all costs. We have saved licenses for restaurants that had no food or kitchen. But it cost these businesses thousands of dollars and a lot of anxiety for its owners.

The requirements are different for the two basic types of on-premises licenses: restaurants and bar/tavern.

WHAT constitutes a ‘restaurant’?

Our state’s liquor law defines “restaurant” as a “place which is regularly, and in a bona fide manner, used and kept open for serving of meals to guests for compensation.” A restaurant also “has suitable kitchen facilities connected therewith, containing conveniences for cooking an assortment of funds, which may be required for ordinary meals,” the statute reads. It goes on to require that the kitchen be run by a chef with adequate help. The kitchen must be clean and comply with local health regulations.

Catering establishments that do not have full kitchens must have at least a “warming kitchen.” A warming kitchen can be any designated area with adequate equipment to cook or reheat, plate food, refrigerate food, and clean up after events. We once got a catering establishment license for a “wedding barn” that used BBQ grills and prep tables to re-heat food prepared elsewhere.

DOES my bar have to have a kitchen?

Unlike restaurants and catering establishments, a bar/tavern does not have to have a kitchen. A food prep area and a limited food menu are required. There is no chef or kitchen required, but you must demonstrate that you can prepare and serve food meeting the statutory minimum.

“The availability of foods, whether fresh, processed, pre-cooked or frozen, shall be deemed compliant with this requirement” for bars and taverns, the law reads.

Chips and pretzels do not satisfy the requirement. A menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads would satisfy the rule. Typically, we tell applicants that a combination of frozen pizza or Hot Pockets, microwaveable food, cheese, and olive platters would probably get approved as well.

If you apply as a restaurant but have no kitchen, your application will be disapproved. If you submit a food menu with not enough items or variety, the Authority will make you revise it.

NO loopholes to the food rules

For bars, food delivered from other establishments does not satisfy the food requirement for licensees. Many bars have paid fines after trying to argue, unsuccessfully, that they put out menus from neighboring eateries and permitted customers to order-in.

Lastly, the law specifically bars the adoption of any rule or regulation that would require the sale of food with the purchase of liquor, wine, and beer for on-premises consumption.

THE takeaways

1. Restaurants must have a diverse menu of food offerings that include entrees.

2. Restaurants must have kitchens that are run by a chef and that are properly equipped, kept clean, and kept open at all hours of operation.

3. Catering establishments must have a “warming kitchen,” and are the only type of on-premises establishment that can rely on food brought in from the outside.

4. Bars/taverns must have a food prep area and a light fare menu: sandwiches, soups, salads, frozen foods heated in microwaves, etc.

5. Violations of the food rules will likely bring a substantial fine or loss of your license.

Got a question about the food rules? Give us a call or send us an email.

— John Springer, My Liquor License Guy