June 22nd, 2021

PA Liquor Laws in Limbo

After more than a year of difficult regulations, rules for service of alcohol will now return to their pre-pandemic state as the Pennsylvania Legislature has terminated the COVID-era liquor provisions contained in emergency declarations. On June 15, 2021, Governor Wolf certified the May 18, 2021 Primary Election results. Due to constitutional amendments voted on in the Primary Election, Pennsylvania voters granted the Pennsylvania Legislature the ability to end emergency declarations issued by the Governor. Ironically, while many restrictions were bad for business in the bar and restaurant industries, there was an expansion of the ability to sell to-go alcohol that benefitted many bar and restaurant owners, which is also disappearing. As the Commonwealth returns to many of its pre-pandemic alcohol standards, read on to see the latest changes to PA liquor laws. 

What Rules are Changing?

Several of the changes are likely to have a major impact on the way that restaurants do business as they adjust to the post-COVID market. Here are the most important ones you should be aware of prior to getting yourself in trouble with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“PLCB”):

  1.  The biggest change is that the sale of to-go mixed drinks is now not permitted. Many of the bar and restaurant owners we assist have found to-go sales were a literal lifesaver for their business during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the power to serve to-go was existing under the emergency declarations which are now terminated. However, it should be noted that there is current legislation pending which could finally allow to-go alcohol as a permanent fixture in Pennsylvania. We will keep you posted when we hear a bit more, but as of now, the proposed legislation is still subject to political gamesmanship.
  2. The extended licensed areas restaurants had to accommodate social distancing, including extensive outdoor seating arrangements, are now considered unlicensed areas. If you wish to continue serving in these areas, you will need to apply for an extended service permit. Per guidance from the PLCB, this is being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but, it is advisable that this be addressed quickly to avoid receiving a violation notice.
  3. Finally, the safekeeping time period pause has been rescinded. If you have a license in safekeeping, renewal costs will begin accruing moving forward.

What Exactly is the New Normal?

Many restaurant owners are hoping for relief through a final bill. Unfortunately, until the politics surrounding the ability of private retailers to sell beverages containing liquor is resolved, businesses’ licenses and their owners’ livelihoods are caught in a precarious position and will continue to suffer.

Additionally, some businesses that have made significant investments in their outdoor seating arrangements and accommodations may continue to operate these areas without licenses from the Commonwealth under threat of penalty and potential ramifications for their fully licensed operations. Other restaurants may opt to discontinue the operation of these areas, hurting their bottom line over the summer and disrupting their staffing arrangements. While enforcement of the changes after the termination of the Emergency Declarations is possible, the practical application to bar and restaurant owners will certainly develop as the politics in the capital continue to unfold.

As always, the attorneys of Gross McGinley, LLP are at your disposal to help you navigate these unprecedented times, and to ensure your transition back to full capacity is as seamless as possible. If you have questions about PA liquor laws, know we are here to guide you. 

Attorneys Jason A. Ulrich and Thomas E. Reilly, Jr. practice in Gross McGinley’s Business Services Group, providing legal counsel to local, regional and national businesses. 

Summer Associate Kenneth C. Steenland, a law student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, contributed to this blog. He is focusing his internship and interests on areas of business law