‘Substantial food item’ needed for to-go booze orders: SLA

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Much like the disgraced former governor they were named for, “Cuomo chips” are unlikely to make a comeback in New York.

The state agency tasked with regulating sales of alcohol on Monday revealed the details of the new law permitting takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages for three years — including its definition of the “substantial” food dishes that restaurants and bars must sell for them to be included in a takeout or delivery order.

As part of the $220 billion state budget passed Saturday, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s alcohol-to-go measure will take effect immediately and lasts until April 2025, allowing New Yorkers to order cocktails or beer at watering holes and restaurants as long as the booze purchase accompanies something to eat.

In the newly issued guidance, the State Liquor Authority classifies a “substantial food item” as  “sandwiches, soups or other foods, whether fresh, processed, precooked or frozen” — not potato chips, candy or bar nuts.

(And yes, Kenny Bania, the state, much like Jerry Seinfeld, considers soup to be a substantial meal.)

“Other foods” are defined in the advisory as “foods which are similar in quality and substance to sandwiches and soups; for example, salads, wings, or hotdogs would be of that quality and substance; however, a bag of chips, bowl of nuts, or candy alone are not.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s alcohol-to-go measure will allow New Yorkers to order alcohol at bars and restaurants as long as the booze purchase accompanies something to eat.
Victor J. Blue/Getty Images

The “substantial food item” provisions, enacted following negotiation on the nine-day-late state budget, does not adhere to Hochul’s previously stated position on regulations for the state’s to-go booze regulations. 

During a March 2 press conference on the topic, the governor said, “I don’t believe it’ll be necessary to have food associated with it,” when asked if food will be required to be served alongside takeout and delivery alcohol.

But the guidance released Monday goes on to warn establishments not to skimp on food portions that they sell with booze.

“Obvious efforts to circumvent the law for example an unreasonably small portion of soup, a serving of canned beans, a handful of lettuce, or charging a small extra fee for an alcoholic beverage in lieu of a food item not actually ordered or delivery will be treated as a violation of the law,” the guidance reads, almost explicitly prohibiting the innovative workarounds bars and eateries used as they navigated the regulations put in place early days of the pandemic.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a Covid-19 press conference on February 09, 2022 in New York City.
Hochul’s alcohol-to-go measure will take effect immediately and lasts until April 2025.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

In mid-2020, bars and restaurants were required to serve food to comply with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rule mandating alcoholic drinks be served with grub.  

The former governor’s July 2020 rule stated patrons must be seated and order a food item in order to get drinks — an effort to prevent the type of packed booze-fueled gatherings that would allow COVID-19 to rapidly spread.

“Any establishment that receives three violations will be closed for business,” Cuomo warned at the time.

In response, the owner of Saratoga Springs’ Harvey’s Irish Pub automatically put $1 “Cuomo Chips” on customers’ tabs so they weren’t required to fork over the money for a full meal when patrons just wanted to sip on a beer or cocktail. Other bars served snacks like candy and potato chips to obey the then-governor’s policy.

Restaurants sell take-away alcohol on the street as New York loosens its alcohol laws during the Coronavirus Pandemic on May 16, 2020 in New York City.
What food constituted “substantial” enough to be sold with alcohol has changed since Gov. Cuomo issued the original alcohol-to-go guidance in 2020.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

A rep for Cuomo said at the time that selling chips alongside alcohol was “consistent with the guidance.” 

Later that month, Cuomo declared that a bag of chips is no longer substantial enough food to comply with the requirement that they serve food with beer, wine and liquor.

A front-page story in The Post last July labeled the former gov “Drinktator” for his edict, and he only confused New Yorkers further when he bizarrely claimed, “There is no bar that only serves alcohol.”

“To be a bar, you had to have food available — soups, sandwiches, etc. More than just hors d’oeuvres, chicken wings,” he explained during a press conference. “You had to have some substantive food — the lowest level of substantive food were sandwiches.”

A sign in a restaurant window advertises beer and margaritas for takeout during the coronavirus pandemic on May 19, 2020 in New York City.
The SLA also unveiled Monday the new law that prohibits eateries from selling bottles of wine and liquor.
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Many bars got creative with their meals, offering  Lunchables, a single sliver of cheese quesadilla or H Mart dumplings cooked in a hot dog steamer, bar staff and customers previously told The Post.

Patrons of a Ridgewood joint said at the time that one spot is offering “soup” consisting of hot water and a bouillon cube. Another bar served a $1 gluten-free vegan taco consisting of a single corn tortilla, while in Bushwick establishments served gazpacho and a dry cup of ramen. One Williamsburg pop-up added pizza rolls to their menu.

In April 2021, the state Legislature voted to remove the former governor’s rule requiring that food be purchased with all booze sales at bars and restaurants.

Last week, The Post reported that Cuomo — who has recently been considering launching a bid to oust Hochul after resigning in August — will not be on the Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot, as declared gubernatorial contenders submitted the required signatures, meaning his political career and the snack named after him are on hold for now.

A cocktails to-go sign is seen outside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Chelsea.
Nearly 80 percent of state residents want to extend the rule that permits booze takeout and delivery at bars and restaurants, according to a survey released in May 2021 by the New York State Restaurant Association.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

On Monday, the SLA also unveiled the new law that prohibits eateries from selling bottles of wine and liquor — a concession to the liquor store industry — along with a provision that allows liquor stores to be open for business on Christmas.

“A bottle is defined to mean the wine and/or liquor that the retailer purchases from a wholesaler in a bottle, box, can, or other similar container,” reads the rule. “Obvious efforts to circumvent the law, such as transferring the contents of a bottle of wine or liquor to a same or equivalent bottle, will be treated as a violation of the law.”

Takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages were first allowed in March 2020 via an executive order signed by Cuomo to help eateries amid a COVID-19-induced shutdown in indoor service.

But the rule had to be extended every 30 days. When the allowance was set to expire in March 2021, it was quietly extended through April 6.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a Covid-19 press conference on February 09, 2022 in New York City.
Hochul said in early March that she is looking to “permanently” allow bars and restaurants to serve to-go booze.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

In June, the COVID-19 state of emergency order that allowed the drinks to flow came to an end

Hochul, during her first state of the state address in January, announced she planned to reinstate the state’s popular “Drinks-to-Go” initiative and included the measure in her state budget proposal. In early March, Hochul announced during a press conference she is looking to “permanently” allow bars and restaurants to serve to-go booze, which most New Yorkers think should return.

Nearly 80 percent of state residents want to extend the rule that permits booze takeout and delivery at bars and restaurants, according to a survey released in May 2021 by the New York State Restaurant Association.

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