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California Will Allow Expanded Alcohol Service on Sidewalks and Parking Lots

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ABC’s new program allows restaurants and bars to serve customers on adjacent sidewalks, parking lots, and streets

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California restaurants and bars could be permitted to serve cocktails and food on adjacent sidewalks, parking lots, and in city streets in the coming months. That’s according to California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which oversees licensing and regulation for bar and restaurant alcohol consumption. ABC’s new plan could create large outdoor bars and dining areas serviced by food trucks and pop-ups.

ABC’s new Temporary Catering Authorization (TCA) will allow restaurants and bars to create an outdoor area to consume food and alcohol, and one way for restaurants to recover lost revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic began. If a restaurant is approved, it can expand operations to parking lots, sidewalks, public thoroughfares closed to public access, and other areas within close proximity to the business. The authorization goes beyond a traditional liquor license, which restricts the purchase and consumption of alcohol on the restaurant’s premises.

As with anything alcohol related, there are strict conditions. This is specific to COVID-19 restrictions, and is available for when the restaurants partially reopen. Businesses must submit a slew of requirements before approval, including a diagram of the proposed temporary area, and approval from local law enforcement. Plus, the TCA only applies to ABC licensed establishments in counties where temporary stay-at-home orders have been lifted. The TCA will be removed as soon as COVID-19 measures are rolled back.

To qualify for the authorization, businesses must have an ABC license to sell alcohol on the premises and must sell actual meals, which can be prepared by the licensee or a business like a food pop-up or food truck.

According to loosened guidelines from governor Gavin Newsom, upwards of 53 of California’s 58 counties could be reopening within the next few weeks. However, this likely won’t include more populated counties like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego, whose stay-at-home orders are still in place.

According to ABC spokesperson John Carr, the TCA is designed to help businesses while coronavirus restrictions closed bars and dining rooms. “These plans will help aid in social distancing of customers and slow the spread of the virus, while allowing venues to serve similar numbers to prior to the pandemic.”

ABC has adjusted its regulations since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency stay-at-home order. Though all California bars and restaurant dining rooms were closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, ABC made the unprecedented move to temporarily allow restaurants to sell cocktails to-go in mid-March.