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Archive for the 'Buying a Restaurant' Category

Sep 08 2014

YELP NOW HAS COURT PERMISSION TO CHANGE RESTAURANT RATINGS FOR MONEY

Yelp logo. (PRNewsFoto)
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has recently ruled that Yelp can revise, edit and prioritize business reviews based on advertising money that the site receives from the business.

This high profile ruling really destroys the veil of impartiality that Yelp was benefitting from for all these years.  Now its crystal clear that Yelp may (although they have not admitted that they did) delete bad reviews for a restaurant that places an ad on its site and similarly delete positive reviews given for a restaurant that refuses to place ads on the Yelp site.

Seems that this is a real wake up call for all of us (myself included) who thought that Yelp reviews were not being edited, deleted or possibly even created by Yelp itself.

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Jan 10 2014

HOW TO BUY A RESTAURANT IN NEW YORK

There are a two ways to buy a restaurant in New York. You can do it by purchasing the ownership shares of the seller or you can purchase the assets of the seller. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in New York but an asset purchase is almost always more beneficial for the buyer. With an asset purchase, the buyer is only assuming certain specified liabilities of the seller. With a purchase of the ownership shares (stock certificates if seller is a corporation and membership interests if seller is a Limited Liability Company), the buyer will be assuming ALL of the liabilities of the seller, known and unknown. In either scenario, a lien and judgment search must be performed on the seller’s business.

GENERAL RULE: Buy the restaurant by means of a bulk asset sale / purchase rather than a purchase of the ownership shares.

You must review the existing lease carefully to determine if the seller is able to assign it to you. If they are able to assign it, you must determine whether the existing clauses are acceptable to you including the term remaining on the lease, the rent amount, the security deposit, the personal guaranty, etc. If they aren’t able to assign the lease, the landlord needs to be contacted to inquire if they are willing to let the tenant “off the hook” and issue a new lease directly to you.

The purchase agreement, which will either be a stock purchase agreement or bulk asset purchase agreement, will need to state all of the terms of the sale including, but not limited to, the purchase price, the amount being held in escrow, the amount to be paid at closing, the specific assets being purchased, the date for closing, any contingencies to closing (e.g. liquor license granted to Buyer), and any personal representations and indemnifications. A Bill of Sale should accompany the purchase agreement along with a corporate resolution from the seller authorizing the sale. Remember, even with an asset purchase agreement, the buyer will be responsible for any unpaid New York State sales tax owed by the seller. This is why it’s very important to (i) file the appropriate bulk sales notice (form AU 196.10), (ii) have the seller personally represent that no taxes are owed and have him/her agree to personally indemnify the buyer for any unpaid taxes, or other liabilities, that were incurred on or before the closing date, (iii) set the closing date to occur after a tax release letter is received from the New York State Department of Taxation stating that no taxes are owed, and/or (iv) have a large portion of the purchase price held in escrow until the release letter is received from the Department of Taxation. This article is intended to give you a general idea regarding what to look out for but you should retain an experienced restaurant attorney if you are considering purchasing a restaurant or bar in New York.

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Jan 09 2014

RESTAURANT LEASES – Key Terms

When considering the execution of a commercial lease, all of the clauses must be given careful consideration. However, when taking a space for a bar or restaurant, there are certain lease clauses that warrant special attention. Following are some key clauses that are a crucial part of every restaurant/bar lease and, if negotiated properly, will allow the restaurateur/bar owner to increase the value of his/her establishment even prior to its opening and to operate with a greater peace of mind.

1) Duration of Lease: Generally, the longer the duration of the lease the better. Especially if given the ability to assign the lease with a minimum of Landlord intervention. Typically, I attempt to negotiate for a 15-year initial term with an annual increase of no more than 3%, and an option to renew the lease for another five-year term exercisable at the discretion of the restaurateur. Do your homework to determine the fair market rental value for the premise and don’t simply rely on your broker’s advice.

2) Assignment: Always attempt to retain the ability to assign the lease to a third party (e.g. in the event you want to, or are forced to sell your restaurant). The Landlord will insist that he must give his prior written consent for any assignment to be valid, but you must in turn, insist that his consent can not be unreasonably withheld, delayed or conditioned. Too many restaurateurs do not realize the importance of having the ability to assign their lease until they are at the point where they have decided to sell their restaurant. At that point, the sale of the restaurant will be thwarted because they will not have the ability to offer the lease to the potential purchaser and the Tenant will be forced to just walk away from the premise with nothing. Also be sure that the lease and personal guaranty shall void in the event of a valid lease assignment. Otherwise, you remain liable for any damages, included but not limited to unpaid rent, caused by your Assignee.

3) Liquor License Contingency Clause: If you intend to apply for a liquor license for your premise, most restaurant attorneys strongly advise that you insert an “escape clause” in your lease in the event that your liquor license application is rejected by the NYSLA. A fair escape clause would be that the tenant gets to void the lease in the event their NYSLA application is rejected BUT are required to pay all rent incurred (included any abated months) to the date of rejection. The personal guaranty, if any, must also void as of that date.

4) Free Rent: Attempt to get the premise rent-free until the latter of (i) the day Tenant opens the establishment to the public, or (ii) the date Tenant receives its liquor license from the NYSLA. Most landlords will agree to this request with some limitation or outside rent commencement date depending on the present demand for the premise and the caliber of the proposed restaurant tenant.

5) The Personal Guaranty: Generally, if the lease is going to be signed in the name of a corporation, all landlords will ask for your personal guaranty. Most landlords, however, will waive this personal guarantee if he/she is presented with other options that may reduce his/her risk in the event of your breach. For example, if you request that the landlord remove the personal guarantee clause and he/she initially refuses, you can offer him a larger security deposit in exchange for eliminating the clause. The larger security deposit will give him/her a greater level of comfort in the event of your default; his goal for including the personal guarantee in the first place. If you don’t have the capital to offer a greater security deposit, then you can offer to compromise and provide the Landlord with a limited personal guarantee or a “Good Guy Clause” which provides that you will be personally liable only up to the date that you surrender the premises back to the Landlord (a/k/a give him the keys).

GENERAL RULE: Lock in the longest lease term possible with the right to assign the lease.  Get a Liquor License contingency clause and make sure the lease and guaranty void in the event of an assignment or a failure to obtain the Liquor License.

There are many other clauses in a commercial restaurant lease and just because I highlighted the ones above does not mean that the others don’t warrant great attention.  A restaurant lease negotiation and review should be handled by a qualified restaurant attorney.

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Apr 18 2013

PRESENTING AT THE COMMUNITY BOARD – LIQUOR LICENSE APPLICATION

You are required to provide the local Community Board (“CB”) with notice at least 30 days prior to filing an on-premise liquor license application the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”). The CB may then put you on their hearing agenda to find out more about your project. At the CB hearing they may ask you about everything from the type of cuisine that you plan on selling to your affiliations with any other NYSLA licensed premises. Nothing is off limits.

I am always asked, “Do I need to have a lawyer with me at this hearing?” My response, which is not going to please my fellow attorneys, is absolutely not. In fact, I typically recommend that you don’t bring an attorney there and that you should never have an attorney go in place of you. The reason is simple. If you were a CB member, would you want to hear the details about the restaurant / bar project from an attorney or directly from the owner/operator of the project? The CB does not want to hear an attorney describe the type of cuisine that you are offering, or what you will do to prevent people from lining up outside, or that you will not have dancing in your premises. They want to hear these assurances from you . . .the operator; the person responsible for ensuring that all of these assurances are going to be kept. I typically recommend that you retain an attorney to be present at the CB hearing only in the event that (i) you anticipate strong opposition to your project, or (ii) are uncomfortable with public speaking. Otherwise, save yourself money and have the person who is best able to present the details of your project present them. . .you.

In a related matter, Community Board 1 in Queens, NY, has just voted against the issuance of a liquor license for a bar where all the female staff would serve wearing only bikinis. The CB cited, amongst the reasons, that this type of establishment would not be appropriate surrounding family oriented community. The proposed name of the bar . . . “Racks.”

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Mar 30 2011

COPYRIGHT AND RESTAURANT RECIPES

Restaurant owners and chefs often conflict with regards to who owns the copyright to the recipes created by the Chef for the dishes served at the restaurant. This conflict occurs so frequently because the answer requires inquiry into a number of factors in order to make a proper determination ownership.

Recipes that merely list ingredients are not copyrightable. They become copyrightable when they contain expression beyond the mere listing of ingredients, such as mixing and cooking directions, tips, photos, etc. Once they become copyrightable, they must be put in writing (or in some other tangible form such as a recording) in order to receive copyright protection. They are copyrighted the second they are written down and they do not need registered with the U.S. Copyright Office (although registering them does provide additional advantages such as proof of latest creation date, public record, and registration is required in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit).

GENERAL RULE: THE COPYRIGHT FOR RECIPES CREATED BY THE CHEF WHILE WORKING AT THE RESTAURANT WILL BELONG TO THE RESTAURANT.

Once they are reduced to writing, the timing and circumstances of such will determine who owns the copyright. For example, if the chef copyrighted the recipes prior to working for the restaurant (eg, created and wrote them down), then the inquiry stops there: the copyright belongs to the Chef.  If the Chef created the recipes on his personal dime and time but during his employment period with the restaurant, then the Chef will own the Copyright.  If the Chef created the recipes while working at the restaurant, then the copyright will belong to the restaurant in accordance with the Work For Hire Doctrine in the Copyright Act.  One simple way to eliminate all of the uncertainty is to execute a written “Work For Hire” agreement specifying that all recipes created during the period of employment shall become the property of the restaurant. There are numerous exceptions and nuances to these general rules and a consultation with a qualified attorney should be had to determine actual copyright ownership of recipes in each particular circumstance.

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