No one likes to be told to eat their veggies, and that goes double during a pandemic. So it’s downright crazy that the New York government is allowing the State Liquor Authority to aggressively enforce rules that require drinking establishments to serve food with alcoholic beverages they sell during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this has led to some ridiculous situations. For example, Pint Sized (a Saratoga Springs craft beer bar) was hit with an expected $1,500 fine for failing to serve what regulators deemed was enough veggies per pint of beer. Pint Sized was attempting to comply with New York’s rule by offering simple bowls of canned vegetables, beans, or chili to each customer.

It turned out that customers were understandably unable to keep up with all the bowls of food landing on their tables. The bar’s staff started to feel guilty about food waste, with good reason given the struggles of food banks during the pandemic, and elected to cut back portions to one bowl of food per table of customers. When undercover agents from the State Liquor Authority ordered brews at Pint Sized and received an insufficient amount of food alongside their drinks, the agency fined the bar.

Although Pint Sized was able to defray the cost of the fine by selling tongue-in-cheek T-shirts to its loyal customers (never underestimate American innovation when it comes to booze), the episode demonstrates the extent to which New York’s COVID-19 approach to food and drink businesses is out of touch and damaging.

In fact, among the many grim pandemic-related statistics, some of the most depressing involve our beloved food and drink establishments. One out of every four jobs lost during the pandemic has been from a restaurant, and other similar businesses, including breweries, distilleries, and wineries have been equally hurt. Despite this brutal reality, it appears that government regulators are determined to make the suffering even worse simply because they can.

Early on in the pandemic, New York imposed bizarrely specific guidance that required restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages only with food, and then went on to clarify that the foods needed to be “substantial enough” to meet that requirement. At first, numerous bars began selling so-called “Cuomo chips,” which was a coy reference to New York’s governor, along with a simple way for those establishments to attempt to comply with the rule. State Liquor Authority regulators were not enthused, however, and informed the bars that chips and nuts did not count — although cheese and crackers, as well as chips and salsa, were apparently OK.

While you could be forgiven for not buying the State Liquor Authority’s argument that a government-mandated bowl of beans is a vital backstop against a deadly virus, the insincerity of the government’s position became even more apparent after it took more than six weeks to actually issue a fine to Pint Sized, despite the supposedly urgent health concerns of too little food.

Unfortunately, New York’s food requirement is not unique. Other states have implemented similar rules, leading to absurd experiences such as beer gardens in Philadelphia selling a single boiled egg alongside a beer and California regulators going into painstaking detail about whether salad counts as food or not.

These food requirement rules trace their heritage back to a Prohibition Era mentality in which alcohol was deemed too dangerous to consume without copious amounts of food present. In fact, New York itself used an early version of a food requirement as far back as the late 1800s to attempt to eradicate immigrant-owned saloons from dotting the cityscape. Like their modern-day restaurant descendants, saloons also attempted clever workarounds such as leaving a recycled and uneaten sandwich on the table for a few seconds after each drink order before taking it back to the kitchen for the next order.

In the midst of a contagious pandemic, it’s understandable that governments would be eager to implement rules to protect the populace. Unfortunately, rather than using more sensible approaches (such as spending more resources ensuring social distancing protocols are followed or allowing restaurants to sell to-go cocktails permanently), New York officials are doubling down on ridiculous ones.

In the meantime, struggling and well-meaning small businesses such as Pint Sized will be forced to bear the cost. And an unconscionable amount of food will be needlessly wasted.

Image credit:  Master1305

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