Beware the State Liquor Authority

Originally Published : February 4, 2021

Wouldn’t it be just so groovy to have a steady hand leading us out of the hole that we find ourselves in?  A leader who’s words we can believe and who governs with poise and forethought and practicality?  Yet again, our Borscht Belt Governor yuks it up as he wreaks havoc on our livelihoods.

And what could be funnier than opening at 25% on Valentine’s Day,  the a- number- one, SuperBowl of Shitshows?  A few days lead time would have been considerate don’t you think?  And then, in a classic Cuomo flip flop form, two days after he tells us – too bad so sad – and restaurants workers can’t get vaccines, he reverses that decision as well.  

On the other hand, Cool Hand Joe has put together a national plan for vaccine distribution and they have been arriving and, on top of that good news, he’s inserted a $50 Billion bailout specifically for the restaurant industry and,  even more exciting, rumor has it that the $25 Billion may be earmarked for NY.  We have learned not to get too jazzed about these things until it’s done but this is some very, very encouraging developments.

Now, here’s Mr. Joseph with a double feature.

Joey Regs says…

Be Aware: The SLA is swarming! 

Summary suspensions are being doled out, by the State, at an absolutely alarming clip – ESPECIALLY in light of the recent news that indoor dining will be resuming in 10 days.  

For those of you who don’t know what a “Summary Suspension” is, it is when the State Liquor Authority effectively shuts you down on the spot, essentially claiming that public health and welfare would be in jeopardy if you were allowed to continue operations.  They then issue you a list of alleged violations a few days later. The big ticket items that are most likely to get you summarily suspended are violations of the Governor’s Executive Orders. These include:

– Violating the “no indoor service” rules;
– Staff not wearing masks at all times;
– Allowing bar service w/ no food service;
– Serving alcohol beyond the 10:00 PM cut-off;
– Not practicing social distancing;
– Non-compliant outdoor structures

Once the SLA issues a violation, you have two choices: 1) settle by way of a large monetary payment; OR 2) fight the matter if you believe that you have good defenses.  The catch is that whichever option you pick, you will NOT be allowed to operate (or sell liquor at least) while you work it out.  So, if you want to fight, you have to expect to be closed for 3-6 months, AND THEN try your hand at the SLA’s kangaroo court (which never really works in your favor anyway) to see what happens.  If you make a deal and pay a hefty fine, you can get your license back within a few weeks.

Please be mindful of how far the SLA is willing to reach in issuing these suspensions.  Here are two of the more egregious examples that we have handled within the last few weeks alone.

 The Old Man and the Seat

Restaurant owner is a well-known operator in NYC, with numerous locations, all with liquor licenses and all in good standing.  A few weeks back, when it was below freezing temperatures outside, they allowed one of their regulars – a 75 year old man – to wait for his food (a pick-up order to go) inside the premise.  He sat at a high-top table while he waited for his food, and was the only patron inside.  SLA happened to pay them a visit at that moment.  They were advised that they would be suspended due to their violation of the Governor’s Executive Order re: indoor service.  And they were, the very next day.
Typically, this would be something that I would love to fight.  But my client can’t possibly afford to not serve for the next 3+ months, while we duke it out.  So, we made a deal, paid a 10K fine and they got their license back inside of a week.

Outdoor Inspection Follies

Another well-known hospitality operator who operates, amongst other things, a hotel in NYC, and has a solid history and track record across many years and venues.  They received a notice of suspension for a number of ticky tack administrative items (which would normally be able to be satisfied by way of just a nominal fine) AND the use of “non-compliant outdoor structures,” in violation of the Executive Orders.  Turns out, the structures are indeed compliant.  And while the SLA was willing to remove some elements of a proposed settlement and reduced our monetary fine, they still had to pay 15K, as they needed the license back ASAP and couldn’t afford to wait and fight it properly, as we might have otherwise.

If you do get served with a summary suspension, please contact us immediately.  Any delay can really set you back.  For example, the SLA holds Full Board meetings once every two weeks.  And it is only at these Full Board meetings where they can accept fines and essentially clear your business to reopen.  So if we miss our window to get onto an upcoming agenda, that’s two more weeks that we’re going to have to wait…with no license.

Big Money Savings on Your Taxes

Last week we gave you an overview of the Employee Retention Tax Credit, which is all the rage at the moment.  We’re doing a little callback here, as it’s that important.  News that business owners who received PPP funds could now ALSO file for this tax credit is huge news.  Please don’t miss this.  It could essentially wipe out your payroll tax liability AND net you a refund check from the government.  Not sure how to draw any more attention to this, so let’s try is like this… ***THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO GET MORE $$$ FROM THE GOVERNMENT***
It’s math, it’s accounting, it’s tedious, it’s hard, it’s annoying.  I know; I get it.  We’re not asking you to dust off your old abacus, put on your green visor and roll up your sleeves.  We’re just saying, that WE think it’s probably worth it to have some professionals do a quick survey of your situation, to determine if you’re eligible, and for how much, potentially
This is what the perfect candidate looks like for purposes of taking advantage of the ERTC….

  • A business that experienced a partial or full shutdown due to Covid-related govt. orders, OR has experienced a reduction in sales of greater than 50% in any quarter of 2020, compared to the same quarter of 2019.
  • Has/Had 100 or less FTE (full time equivalent)
  • Has either paid payroll outside of PPP covered period OR can show that the sum of payroll and non-payroll costs paid during covered period exceed the total PPP loan amount.
  • Affiliated entities may be aggregated to satisfy the various tests above – i.e. you found a way to crush it at one venue throughout the pandemic (think to-go concept), but your other store (think fine dining concept) really ate it.

That’s it.  If this sounds like you, please contact our friends at Scotto & Melchiorre.  They’ve come up with a user-friendly “survey” that you can take, to determine eligibility.  Let them figure this shit out for you.
Find the survey here: ERC Study Questionnaire
Contact them directly here: [email protected]

Be Aware: Restaurants Targeted in Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits

We have seen an alarming uptick in the number of Americans with Disability Act lawsuits claiming that an operator’s website was not accessible to persons with vision impairments.  In short, if your website offers services, allows customers to place orders, or even has a link to your menus, the website must be properly configured to allow it to be accessed by visually impaired persons.  In these instances, truly an ounce of prevention can save you thousands of dollars in legal and court fees as we have seen settlements as high as 15K.

Please contact either Joe Taylor at [email protected] or Lee Jacobs at [email protected] to discuss your website and what steps can be taken to make help start the process and to connect you with the proper professionals to ensure you are in compliance.