Restaurant Law Blog

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Underground “Supper Clubs”

Restaurant goers are always looking for the next new and exciting dining experience. It is no surprise, then, that “underground supper clubs” are becoming increasingly popular – not only in New York City, but throughout the world. An underground supper club allows diners to reserve a spot in someone’s private home where they pay the host for their meal.

Several companies have created websites to facilitate these intimate and unique gatherings. For example, EatWith is a company that was founded in 2012 in Tel Aviv and has quickly expanded in Europe, South America and now the United States. While other countries may be more accepting of this practice, health and sanitation laws in the United States present huge roadblocks for supper club enthusiasts.

In New York, the Department of Health has strict regulations regarding establishments that serve food to the public. Food Service Establishment Permits are required at all places “where food is prepared and intended for individual portion service…whether consumption occurs on or off the premises.” The law further explains that “food service establishments” do not include “private homes where food is prepared or served for family consumption, and food service operations where a distinct group mutually provides, prepares, serves and consumes the food such as a "covered-dish supper" limited to a congregation, club or fraternal organization.” While the existing law does not specifically address the idea of a supper club, the language suggests that supper clubs may be permissible without having to obtain a Food Establishment Permit.

What if you want to serve alcohol?

The State Liquor Authority requires licenses for all establishments that sell alcohol (or even give away alcohol for “free”) to patrons for on-premises consumption. Places that allow customers to “BYOB” are supposed to have a “bottle club license” from the State Liquor Authority, despite the fact that many BYOB places do not have such a license.

It seems that the main issue for supper clubs is how the Department of Health and State Liquor Authority regulations define a “customer” or “patron” versus an ordinary houseguest. If we are allowed to invite friends (and friends of friends) into our homes for dinner and wine without repercussions, then where does the line get drawn? For now, these lines are blurry at best and will certainly need clarification as supper clubs become more commonplace.

Currently, companies like EatWith have placed the onus on hosts and guests to follow all applicable laws and regulations – how and if this is occurring is yet to be determined. Because each host and experience varies, it is too difficult to say with certainty whether all of these “supper clubs” are illegal. There may be ways to comply with the Department of Health and State Liquor Authority’s requirements depending on a number of factors, including: who is cooking the meal; where the meal is cooked; whether permits—temporary or otherwise—can be obtained; whether alcohol is provided or brought by guests, and more.

Because these supper clubs have only recently started to gain exposure in the media, it is unclear how the Department of Health and State Liquor Authority will react and what changes may take place to perhaps accommodate these operations.

Contact DiPasquale Law Group for a free consultation to discuss your questions or concerns.

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