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Nov 03 2017

NYC Cabaret Law Will Be Repealed!

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The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted on October 31, 2017, to pass legislation (Int. 1652) that repeals the City’s longstanding Cabaret Law. At the same time, Int. 1652 retains certain security requirements of the old law for large establishments. The legislation has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign Int. 1652 into law shortly.

The existing Cabaret Law, established nearly a century ago during Prohibition, requires any business venue where dancing occurs to obtain a Cabaret license from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs before operating. The law also prohibits musical entertainment, singing, or other forms of amusement without a Cabaret license at establishments in New York City. Currently, premises required to hold a Cabaret license also must provide a copy of it to the New York State Liquor Authority in order to be licensed to sell or serve alcohol at the premises.

While active enforcement of the Cabaret Law has been on the decline in the past several years, this legislative effort marks the end of decades of strong opposition by venue operators and performers to the law as written.

The legislation will repeal the entire Cabaret Law while retaining certain requirements of the law relating to security measures at large entertainment establishments. Once this legislation becomes law, neither operators nor performers will need to apply for a Cabaret license for any reason. Operators of certain large entertainment establishments (as defined by the New York City zoning laws), however, will need to maintain existing requirements regarding the use of video surveillance cameras and security guards. The requirements will be codified under new section 10-177 in § 2, Title 10 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.

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Nov 02 2017

TRADE SECRET: Keeping Secrets Secret

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In the highly competitive restaurant industry, owners must take steps to protect their proprietary information, such as recipes, techniques, concepts and strategies from theft by former employees. Trade Secrets are any type of information that provides the owner of that information with a competitive advantage as a result of the information not being generally known and readily ascertainable by others.

GENERAL RULE: An owner should protect Trade Secrets with Confidentiality Agreements and take all measures necessary to keep such information secure from disclosure.

Employees who are involved with proprietary information, as well as managers and restaurant executives, should sign confidentiality agreements. In pertinent part, the confidentiality agreement should state the general information that is considered trade secret and should further state that any use or disclosure of this information, other than that specifically allowed by the employer, will be considered a breach of confidentiality and shall subject the employee to legal action and any damages.

As further protection, confidential documents containing recipes, concepts and techniques should be marked “Proprietary and Confidential Information; do not copy or distribute.”

Remind departing employees in writing of their continuing obligation to the confidentiality of the Trade Secrets of your company and have them return all manuals and documents they have in their possession when they leave your employment.

An experienced restaurant employment attorney can draft the appropriate confidentiality Agreement for your specific establishment and can develop a program for you to implement which will maximize your chances that such information will remain confidential and be classified as Trade Secret.

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Nov 02 2017

NEGLIGENCE: SLIP AND FALL LIABILITY

Published by under Insurance,Negligence

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National Safety Council statistics establish that more people are injured in America in slip-and-fall situations than in any other accident scenario.

GENERAL RULE: The owner of a restaurant or bar where such injuries occur is not automatically legally responsible for the consequences of a slip and fall on his/her premises. Proof must be adduced by the plaintiff to establish that: (1) a dangerous condition was created or permitted by the defendant to remain for an unreasonably long time; and (2) the defendant had notice of its existence during such time and failed to take reasonable measures to remove it or to prevent the accident. If you have insurance coverage, notify your carrier immediately upon learning of the incident.

As such, the mere occurrence of the injury does not suffice to impute liability to the restaurant owner. Rather, recent cases have alerted plaintiff’s counsel that in order to prevail in their slip and fall cases, they must prove the specific instrumentality causing the fall, the location and causation of the accident, and specifics of the time frame when the hazard was created; it must also be proven that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of its existence (i.e. that they knew or had reason to know of it). Regardless of the difficulty in successfully bringing forth a slip and fall case, restaurant owners are strongly advised to have this contingency covered via careful periodic inspections of the premises and an insurance policy encompassing this type of liability. The increased insurance premium will be nominal compared to the damages that can, and have been, awarded to successful slip and fall plaintiffs.

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Nov 01 2017

SIDEWALK CAFE LICENSE: Can I get one?

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Having a sidewalk café can greatly enhance the ambience of your restaurant, increase its revenues, and can have a number of other positive affects on your establishment.

GENERAL RULE: To legally operate a portion of a restaurant on a public sidewalk, you must obtain a sidewalk café license and revocable consent to use the sidewalk space from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. This license is renewable every two years and the license fee is determined by the size of the café and the location of your establishment.

The three types of sidewalk cafés are the: (i) enclosed café, (ii) unenclosed café, and (iii) small unenclosed café. Only restaurants on the ground floor are allowed to have cafes and design criteria for each type are based on the availability of free space on the sidewalk. Pedestrian traffic is a concern and there are specific measurements that must be met regarding distance from trees, parking meters, fire hydrants and other obstructions.

Regardless of the type of sidewalk café, (i) there must a minimum three foot “Service Aisle” for staff within the café, (ii) waiters are not permitted to serve diners from the public sidewalk, only from the designated wait service aisle, and (iii) all sidewalk cafes must maintain a minimum clear path of eight (8) feet between the outer limit of the café and any other object near the curb.

However, there are certain areas in New York City that are sidewalk café blackout zones where they simply are not permitted regardless of free sidewalk space, zoning, etc. If you are signing a lease with the intention to operate a sidewalk café at the premise, be sure to contact a qualified attorney or the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Sidewalk Café Unit prior to signing that lease to ensure that you are not within one of these blackout zones and that the premise is otherwise suitable for such a license.

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Nov 01 2017

POST THE SIGN: AVOID THE FINE.

Published by under Posting Requirements

Every year restaurant and bar owners are subjected to harsh fines, both monetary and criminal, as result of failing to post various signs as required by New York State and City laws.

GENERAL RULE: Although the requirements are constantly changing, the following is a list of signs that must be displayed in customer view: Equipment Use Permit; Occupancy Sign (in establishments holding more than 75 people); Sidewalk Café License (indicating number of tables and chairs); Local law 12: Taskforce/ Resuscitation Equipment; Sign Prohibiting the Sale of Cigarettes to Minors (if cigarettes are sold on the premises); Cigarette Retail License (if cigarettes are sold on premises); Operating Permit; Choking First Aid Sign; CPR Sign: Permit to Manufacture Frozen Desserts; Sign Indicating Availability of Most Recent Inspection Report; Alcohol and Pregnancy Warning; Alcohol and Beverage Control Law; Sales Tax Certificate; Signs Designating “Smoking” and “Non-Smoking” Areas; Exit Signs (required over each exit) or Exit Directional Signs (if exit is not in clear sight); Waste Carter and Times of Refuse Removal; and Nutritional Information Pertaining to Certain Items Termed “Diet” , “Light”, or Similarly Modified Foods.

The penalties for not posting these required signs range from minor monetary fines to seizure of assets and forced business closures.

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Oct 31 2017

RESTAURANTS SERVED WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUITS

Published by under Sexual Harassment

 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has targeted the restaurant industry as the “single largest” source of sexual harassment claims. With all the media attention on the subject lately, the number of sexual harassment cases filed each year against restaurants and their owners are escalating at an all too rapid pace. Restaurant owners must now take a pro-active stance to keep such complaints from damaging their operation. All employees, male and female, need to be formally informed as to what types of conduct are unlawful. Assuming that your managers and employees know how to behave without explicit guidelines could be your ticket to the courthouse. A series of Supreme Court decisions have defined what “sexual harassment” means. Those cases, and the interpretive guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC), define two distinct types of sexual harassment:

 

quid pro quo (a legal term meaning “this for that”), in which a supervisor demands sexual favors from an employee and threatens to fire the employee if the conditions are not met; and

hostile environment, in which a supervisor or employee creates a work environment through verbal or physical conduct that interferes with another co-worker’s job performance or creates an intimidating work environment. A hostile environment is created when unwelcome sexual behavior is repeated. For example, an employee keeps telling off-color jokes after another staff member says they are offensive, or one employee keeps asking another employee for dates after being refused.

GENERAL RULE: An employer’s obligation with regard to sexual harassment arises before any act of harassment even occurs. As such, most lawyers practicing in this field strongly urge their employer-clients to distribute a clear and explicit sexual harassment prohibition policy and reporting procedure. Additionally, Anti-harassment training should occur on a regular basis which should educate managers and other employees as to what conduct is specifically prohibited (including a presentation of hypothetical harassment scenarios) and what to do if the employee believes they have been/are being harassed.

This policy and training is critical because under federal case law, an employer can fulfill its obligation if it takes all reasonable steps to prevent harassment before it occurs and takes effective steps to promptly remedy the harassment after it takes place. If these general principles are consistently and carefully applied, the employer can go a long way towards limiting its exposure and liability for sexual harassment.

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Oct 30 2017

EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT: Keeping Key Personnel

As the owner of a restaurant, you should consider providing your key personnel with employment contracts. The employment contract will provide the employee with job security, will clarify all of the conditions and duties of employment, and will create a contractual obligation for them to be employed for the term of the contract.

GENERAL RULE: While there is no required form that the contract must take, certain key provisions should be included, such as the (i) term (i.e. length of employment), (ii) compensation, (iii) employees duties and obligations, (iv) confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete, and non-solicit provisions, and (v) grounds for termination or a “Just Cause” clause.

The more detail contained in the contract, the less room for disagreement during the employment period. As an owner, be sure to have the “Just Cause” clause worded in a manner that allows you to terminate the employee during the term, without any penalty, if the employee engages in negligence, misconduct, excessive absences, drug use, theft, fraud, fails to perform his duties in a professional manner, performs an act or omission of an act that could be deemed injurious to the company financially or to its reputation, or is convicted (or a plea of no contest) of any misdemeanor or felony.

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Oct 30 2017

Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most important national civil-rights laws dealing with the rights of people with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability in areas of employment, places of public accommodation, housing, public services, transportation, and telecommunications. However, a barrage of ADA lawsuits have recently been filed against New York restaurants and bars and a great deal of them really have nothing to do with assisting those with disabilities.

I very recently defended another NY restaurant in an ADA case where the Plaintiff was claiming that the bathrooms were not ADA compliant because the mirrors were too high, the pipes under the sink were not properly insulated, and the bathroom sign was placed too high and didn’t contain the word “bathroom” in braille. In that case the Plaintiff was correct. These issues were in fact violations of the ADA and the Defendant restaurant had no choice but to settle the legal action. The settlement included a nominal payment to the Plaintiff himself, a much larger payment to the Plaintiff counsel for their legal fees (prevailing Plaintiffs are entitled to legal fees in ADA cases so these amounts are always worked into a settlement), and an agreement to fix the violations. The total settlement payment was over $10,000.00 plus tack on another $6,000.00 for legal defense fees bringing the cost of that legal action to over $16,000.00.  The actual cost incurred to fix the violations . . . .$95.00.

Defendants with any ADA violations, if sued, must ultimately make a business decision. That business decision almost always requires the Defendant to settle the case rather than proceed forward running up their own legal defense fees along with the plaintiff’s legal fees.

The point of this post is simple. Be fully ADA compliant. The ADA law is very technical and even a minor violation may result in a very expensive lawsuit from an “enterprising” plaintiff counsel. Be proactive. Retain qualified legal counsel and have them do a walk-through of your establishment ensuring compliance and pointing out any and all issues.

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Oct 29 2017

TRADEMARK: What’s in a name?

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You worked hard thinking of that perfect name for your restaurant, you spent a small fortune and countless hours marketing that name, and because of all your efforts that name has developed a great “buzz” and reputation in New York. . . and less than a year later another restaurant opens up in NYC with almost the same name as yours! To make matters worse, people are now going to that other restaurant thinking that it’s yours! What do you do?

If you had your restaurant’s name “trademarked,” you would call your attorney, he/she would draft and send a “cease and desist” letter to your competitor, and you would put that competitor out of business or at the very least force them to change the name of their restaurant.

GENERAL RULE: Trademark registration for the name of a restaurant or bar should be done for EVERY establishment so long as it can be done.

A trademark is any word, name or symbol adopted and used by a person (or that person has a bona fide intent to use that word, name or symbol and subsequently does use it) that identifies and distinguishes his or her goods or services from those manufactured and sold by others, and indicates the source of those goods or services. Names of restaurants, as long as they are not generic or merely descriptive, are terrific candidates for trademark registration. Additionally, a trademark is considered an asset which is not only valuable to a business but invaluable to a business if you are considering opening more than one establishment with the same name or ultimately licensing and/or franchising your concept.

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Sep 25 2017

Community Boards and Liquor License Applications (Q and A)

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Are Community Boards notified of when the NYSLA receives applications in their neighborhoods?

For certain types of establishments, Community Boards are notified before the NYSLA receives an application. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law requires that anyone applying for an on-premises license notify their community board of their intention to apply for a liquor license 30 days before filing an application with the State Liquor Authority. Proof of the 30 day notice must be submitted with the application. The community board may submit an opinion, either in favor of or against granting the license. That opinion will become part of the record used by the NYSLA in deciding whether to approve the application.

What are the different types of licenses granted by the NYSLA?

There are several types of licenses granted by the NYSLA, the following are the four basic ones issued: On-Premises Liquor: Generally considered to be the standard “bar” license. Allows on-premises consumption of liquor, wine and beer and also allows for sale of beer (only) for off-premises consumption.  Food, such as soups and sandwiches, MUST be served. Grocery Beer/Wine: Off-premises beer license as listed above, see “Grocery Store Beer”. Additionally a “wine product” is defined as a beverage containing wine with added juice, flavoring, water, citric acid, sugar and carbon dioxide, not containing more than six percent alcohol by volume (typically referred to as “wine coolers”).  Catering: Allows providers of food for banquet halls, dining halls, etc., to provide liquor, wine and beer for consumption for an assemblage for a particular function (i.e. retirement dinner, wedding reception, private party) to which the general public is not admitted. This license is for this type of function only. Liquor Store: For the sale of liquor and wine (no beer) for consumption off the premises. The only additional items allowed to be sold, such as ice and corkscrews, are listed in the ABC Law. Only one license is allowed per person (corporation, partnership, etc.).

What is the 500 foot rule and how does this apply to community boards? When the NYSLA receives an application, there is a general presumption that it will be approved unless there is a good reason not to approve it. However, for on premises license applications falling under the 500 foot rule, (meaning there are already 3 or more existing establishments with the same type of license within 500 feet of the proposed applicant), the presumption switches, and by law the application cannot be approved unless the SLA finds that issuing the license would be in the public interest. The 500 foot law requires the NYSLA to consult with the community board and conduct a hearing to gather facts to determine whether the public interest would be served by issuing the license. Generally speaking, if there is no opposition to the application, and no other issues presented that requires consideration by the Members of the Authority, the application is acted on by the NYSLA’s Licensing Bureau. In cases where the community board or other interested parties oppose the application, or there are other issues requiring review by the Members of the Authority, the matter is referred to the Members for determination. It is important to note that the fact that there is opposition to an application does not necessarily mean that the Authority will disapprove the application. The Authority may also applications even when there is no opposition. In situations where there is opposition to an application, applicants may come to an agreement on stipulations concerning the operation of the establishment (e.g. closing hours, live music, etc). In such cases, the applicant may incorporate those stipulations into the approved method of operation. These stipulations then become conditions of the license privilege and failure to comply subjects the licensee to disciplinary action. The SLA can impose certain conditions on the operation of the establishment without the consent of the applicant if there is good cause to do so.

Stipulations: Before a license is issued, if a Community Board and applicant agree to certain conditions of the license, some of which can be written into the license and some that cannot, how can the Community Board handle this? If the Community Board and the applicant reach an agreement with respect to the operation of the establishment, the applicant can incorporate into the application those conditions that are relevant to the operation of a licensed establishment.

What is the 200 foot rule? Under the “200 Foot Rule” an establishment cannot be licensed to sell liquor at retail if it is on the same street and within 200 feet of a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship. The rule also applies to wine stores. It does not apply to on premises establishments that are licensed for wine and/or beer only and to grocery stores. There are two exceptions under the law if the establishment existed prior to the enactment of the law in 1934 or if the location was licensed prior to the existence of the school or place of worship and has been continuously licensed ever since.

What weight does the CB have in recommending approval or denial of retail license? While not binding on the Members of the Authority, the NYSLA considers input from community boards in all licensing decisions. However, courts have held that, for applications not subject to the 500 foot rule, community opposition alone is not sufficient to disapprove an application.

How do I know what Community Board represents me? The following link is from the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/directory.shtml

Can a bar or nightclub “transfer” their license to another owner? Does the Community Board need to be notified? Does a transfer require NYSLA approval? Licensees may not “transfer” a license, in the way transfer is commonly understood (i.e. licenses may not be sold or given from one person or company to another). The NYSLA’s Licensing Bureau staff uses the terms “transfer” and “new” applications only to differentiate between an application for an establishment that is currently licensed and selling their business (transfer) and an establishment that is not currently licensed (new). In both cases, the license applicant must go through the same process, including notifying their CB and holding a 500 foot-hearing if applicable. A corporate licensee may have a change of officers, directors and stockholders without going through the entire application process. In such a case the licensee has to submit information regarding the new persons coming into the corporation and the financing involved.

How do temporary permits work? If a license applicant gets a temporary, does this mean they will get a full liquor license? A license applicant who is purchasing the existing business that is currently licensed to sell alcoholic beverages may file an application for a Temporary Retail Permit. This allows the license applicant to begin operating the business and serving alcoholic beverages while their application for a permanent license is being reviewed. In order to qualify for this permit, the establishment must have been open and operating at least 30 days prior to the filing of the application. The permit is granted at the discretion of the NYSLA for a period of 90 days, and may be renewed. Issuance of the permit is not a guarantee that the licensee will be approved for a permanent license.

Does the license expire once the licensee’s establishment ceases to exist? A liquor license is connected to the individual and a specific location. If the establishment ceases to exist their license certificate must be returned to the NYSLA. If the entity has vacated the premises is considered abandoned, the NYSLA Licensing Bureau sends out an abandonment letter to verify if the prior tenant has vacated the premises. When a licensee closes their business, they are required to alert the NYSLA and hand in their license, this is referred to as “surrendering” the license. Licensees are entitled to a refund on the unused portion of their licensing fee.

Are there any routine unannounced inspections of establishments by NYSLA’s enforcement unit to ensure compliance with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law or is it complaint driven? The SLA conducts unannounced undercover inspections as part of its investigation of a licensee. An investigation by the SLA may include: 1. on-site inspections of a licensed establishment; 2. on-site undercover investigations by NYSLA Investigators and other law enforcement agencies; 3. a review of reports and investigations by other law enforcement and regulatory agencies; and 4. interviewing potential witnesses/complainants and collecting evidence of potential violations. Information comes to the NYSLA from a variety of sources, including police and other law enforcement agency referrals, complaints by other government agencies or officials, and complaints made by the public. The identity of a person making a complaint is kept confidential.

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