Florida modifies rules to allow bars with food license to serve alcohol

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation amended its order that prevented bars and pubs from selling alcohol to allow sales if they are licensed to serve food, as long as they follow the rules.

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation has amended its order that suspended alcohol sales at bars and pubs to allow any establishment licensed to sell food to sell alcohol, effective July 1.

The original order required all vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages that derive more than 50% of gross revenue from those sales to stop on-premises sales of alcohol immediately.

Vendors were still allowed to sell alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for consumption off premises.

The order did not apply to restaurants, or vendors who are licensed as food service establishments “as long as they follow the rules and derive 50% or less of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages,” according to the original order.

The amended order allows vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises and also licensed to sell food to operate as a restaurant and thus serve alcoholic beverages.

Vendors that are not licensed to sell food are still not allowed to sell alcohol except in sealed containers for consumption off premises. DBPR states that the order does not allow nightclubs to operate.

Under the rules for restaurants, indoor capacity is limited to 50% of seating occupancy, excluding employees, and customers must be seated at tables or bar counters with social distancing of 6 feet apart.

The original order came on the day the state set a new all-time high in COVID-19 cases. The number of confirmed cases in Florida on June 26 was 122,960 — 8,942 more than the number reported on the day before.

Pinellas also set a new record that day 430 new cases, followed by the county’s all-time high of 614 cases on June 27.

In DBPR’s June 26 order, it said some of the cases involving younger people “are suspected to come from visits to bars, pubs or nightclubs who have disregarded the restrictions” in phase two of the state’s recovery plan.

“Noncompliance by bars and other vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises is suspected through the state to such a degree as to make individualized enforcement efforts impractical and insufficient at this time,” DBPR said in both orders.

When Pinellas County commissioners discussed making face masks mandatory on June 18, prior to issuing that order on June 23, County Administrator Barry Burton said that community spread of COVID-19, especially in ages 25-34, was occurring at an “alarming pace.”

He said local bars were allowing hundreds of young adults to pack into their establishments. He equated the problem to those the county experienced during spring break.

County officials and local health experts are concerned about the rising number of cases and positivity rates.

“The curve is exponential at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Department of Health in Pinellas, adding that the only tools to fight community spread was social distancing and face masks.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri pointed to a problem with local bars failing to limit the number of people who come inside. He said dance clubs had crowds that were “wall-to-wall and shoulder-to-shoulder” and some weren’t even making an effort to comply with the governor’s rules.

When discussing closing the beaches for Fourth of July during a June 30 commission meeting, Gualtieri said if the beaches were closed, people would just go elsewhere, such as the pool decks at local hotels where occupancy is much higher compared to Memorial Day.

Pinellas’ beaches will remain open over the holiday weekend.

Gualtieri remains concerned about bars and restaurants, especially places with dance floors, and those that remain defiant about allowing too many people inside.

He said his deputies were doing the best they could with enforcement.

He believes it is time for restaurants and bars to show community responsibility and not let as many people in the door.

“They’re the ones causing the problem,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.