When is a bar a restaurant and a restaurant a bar? That’s an enforceable question in Texas

Two weeks ago, despite having cheeseburgers, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie on the menu, state officials came to Plano’s Holy Grail Pub and told it to shut down in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to close bars.

According to the Texas Restaurant Association, the Holy Grail Pub was one of 1,500 establishments across the Lone Star State to be closed after receiving an order to do so in an effort to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases. Abbott signed an order that temporarily shut down any business that relies on alcohol sales for more than 51 percent of their income while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
On Wednesday, eight bar owners in the Dallas area sued Abbott over the shutdown order, claiming that it unfairly targets a class of businesses without evidence that they are responsible for the surge in cases.

Attorney for the bar owners Jason Friedman said, “Bars have been closed for two weeks and we are still seeing more cases.” As of Wednesday, Dallas County had seen over a thousand new cases for the sixth day in a row.

Since the Holy Grail Pub sells more pints of ale than plates of chicken tikka masala, it seems to be caught up in the current wave of bar closures.

Christi Rudolph, who has owned and operated the restaurant with her husband Brian for 11 years, said, “We operate like a restaurant and our biggest competitors across the street, chain restaurants that serve alcohol, are still open.”
It’s easy for a table to spend more on alcohol than food, she warned, with entrees costing $13 to $15 and beers going for $7 and glasses of wine for $10.

The Texas Restaurant Association has petitioned Governor Abbott to rescind his executive order or suggest that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission change the regulations so that establishments functioning like restaurants can remain open despite selling slightly more alcoholic beverages than food.
Kelsey Erickson Streufert, vice president of government affairs and advocacy for the restaurant association, remarked, “There is a pretty clear difference that these restaurants do not operate like bars.” “You can tell them apart without considering sales of alcoholic beverages alone.”

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Streufert claims that the vast majority of bars do not offer full-service kitchens or table seating.

In an effort to persuade state lawmakers and government officials to alter the regulation, the restaurant association started an online letter-writing campaign.

About 35,000 people lost their jobs as a result of the bar order’s closure of 1,500 restaurants, according to Streufert. She explained that while the lobbying group’s ultimate goal is to have all bars reopened, for the time being it is focusing on the relatively small number of restaurants that it believes are incorrectly classified as bars.

When asked about recent conversations between the Texas Restaurant Association and the governor’s office, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission declined to comment.
Because of Abbott’s directive, business owners must now ask themselves new kinds of questions. In this day and age of brewpubs and high-end dining establishments serving both food and alcohol, it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The owner of The Colony’s Lava Cantina, Ian Vaughn, claims the establishment was abruptly closed a week ago, right as a live band was about to take the stage. His establishment is now classified as a bar because beer, wine, and liquor made up 58% of sales in the previous year.

According to Vaughn, Lava Cantina is first and foremost a restaurant before it is an establishment that provides alcoholic beverages. He claimed that Lava Cantina still counts as a restaurant under the laws of at least one state because less than 60% of the business comes from alcoholic beverages.

According to Vaughn, there are about 112 people working at Lava Cantina. This includes chefs, wait staff, bussers, security, and bartenders. Unfortunately, the restaurant has had to cancel several shows recently, but Vaughn is keeping his fingers crossed that things will improve by Saturday, when hip-hop star Nelly is scheduled to perform there.

For Vaughn, “safety and responsibility” are two things that should be prioritized. We’ve been keeping our distance and watching our backs as much as we can.

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