Restaurant Law Blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Bottomless Brunches" Are Legal in NYC After All

Many media outlets jumped on a (false) report that brunch deals which include unlimited drinks within a certain time period are illegal in New York City. This news shocked New York's die-hard brunch fans, but the panic quickly ceased when the media noted shortly thereafter that the deals aren't actually illegal. So, New York City brunch-goers are free to have their fill of weekend afternoon mimosas after all. More importantly, the city's restaurants aren't in violation of state law when they host brunch specials that include alcoholic beverages.

What caused this so-called panic? The New York Hospitality Alliance posted a reminder on its website recently that simply read: “NYC restaurant and nightlife operators should familiarize themselves with the law," in reference to N.Y. 117-A, which prohibits “selling, serving, delivering or offering to patrons an unlimited number of drinks during any set period of time for a fixed price.”

This law was created more than five years ago in response to complaints that restaurants and bars were over-serving patrons, leading to extreme intoxication, Business Insider reports. 

The publication contacted the New York State Liquor Association (SLA), and the organization responded by email, telling Business Insider that the law (NY 117-A) does not apply to bottomless brunches, which are considered “events.”

According to the SLA:

"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."

Though the law surrounding bottomless brunches has been clarified, restaurants and bars should always exercise responsibility when serving alcoholic beverages to patrons. And, no restaurant is immune from an investigation by the SLA. Just a note for those who are interested, restaurants/bars can receive a punishment to the tune of $10,000 for violations involving the promotion of excessive drinking.


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