Mar 19 2014
Unlimited drink specials are illegal in New York (with limited exception for private events). This Prohibition included “bottomless glass” of champagne brunch specials but it is regularly ignored because most owners are simply not aware of it. However, the prohibition was recently placed into the spotlight and the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA) issued the following statement on Feb. 26, 2014 which was supposed to ease and clarify the prohibition:
“Serving unlimited drinks to a patron is prohibited under the Alcoholic Beverage Control law, and instances of over serving by our licensees will be investigated and prosecuted. However, there is a limited exception in the statute when the service of alcohol is incidental to the event, such as in the case of certain brunch specials. Even under these limited exceptions, licensees still have a legal obligation not to over serve patrons. The SLA will continue to take a balanced regulatory approach by allowing licensees to conduct specials where alcohol is an accompaniment, while simultaneously cracking down on specials that promote excessive drinking.” -New York State Liquor Authority
The New York City Hospitality Alliance publicly commended the NYSLA for issuing this statement and for providing such clarity. However, all the rest of us must have missed the “clarity” that the NYC Hospitality Alliance apparently saw in that statement.
“…there is a limited exception in the statute when the service of alcohol is incidental to the event, such as in the case of certain brunch specials.” When is the service of alcohol incidental to the event/brunch? Always? Sometimes? When there are pancakes on the menu? Why just brunch? If the service of alcohol can now be now deemed incidental during brunch, why is it not deemed incidental during lunch or dinner as well?
The reality is that the NYSLA statement provides no clarity whatsoever on the prohibition and in fact causes more confusion because now there appears to be some new exception to the prohibition that applies to certain brunch specials . . .but leaves us all in the dark as to the necessary elements of this exception. Until there is some actual clarification or specifically stated exception to the prohibition, we still recommend that you do not offer any unlimited drink specials during brunch, lunch, dinner or otherwise.