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Texas Bars Can Reopen If They Sell Food From Food Trucks or Vendors

The new TABC amendment makes it easier for bars to apply for food and beverage certificates, allowing them to reopen for dine-in service amid the pandemic

A woman  wearing a blue face mask is pouring a green liquid into a clear glass that is surrounded by coupe glasses with ice
A masked bartender makes drinks
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Texas bars now have an easier way of being classified as restaurants — thereby allowing the closed businesses to reopen for dine-in service — thanks to a newly adopted emergency rule by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) as of Tuesday, August 25.

Under this amendment, bars can now apply for food and beverage certificates, making them restaurants by law, if they serve food from food trucks or other outside vendors. In order to qualify, these bars will have to have a dedicated area where food is either prepared or stored, by submitting a floor plan as part of the application. This means it is not required to have an onsite kitchen, and parked, independently operated food trucks count. (The previous allowance required bars looking to quality as restaurants to have an onsite kitchen or a permanent food truck.) The menu also needs to offer several main dishes.

In late July, TABC allowed bars and breweries with kitchens or permanent food trucks to apply for food and beverage permits, allowing them to function as restaurants and therefore open to the public. This was under the condition that these businesses were able to prove that they have been making less than 51 percent in alcohol sales since April (they were allowed to exclude to-go, delivery, and retail sales where applicable, thus helping them reach the desired lower percentage). The bars and breweries were also allowed to share projected sales numbers that predicted lower alcohol sales.

In late June, bars (defined here as businesses that made 51 percent or more in alcohol sales) in alcohol sales) were ordered closed again by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott amid a surge in the state’s coronavirus cases. Restaurants, however, have been able to remain open for dine-in service, albeit at 50 percent indoor capacities and no outdoor limits, all while adhering to social distancing requirements. Restaurants and bars with kitchens have been able to sell to-go cocktails during this time as well.

This new rule allowing bars to reclassify as restaurants by partnering with food trucks and outside food vendors will remain in effect for up to 120 days, and can’t be renewed for more than an additional 60 days. According to the TABC, the rule change was necessary to help stave off the closure of bars that can’t offer dine-in service. As the amendment reads:

Many establishments that would have otherwise remained shuttered will be able to reopen and operate in a safe manner due to these amendments. This result will not only help mitigate the economic crisis in the State of Texas resulting from the COVID-19 disaster, it will also protect the welfare of thousands of members of the regulated industry and their employees who rely upon the income from these establishments to support themselves and their families. Without the option offered by this rule amendment, many of these establishments will be forced to close permanently within the next 30 days. Thus, the commission finds that an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare, or a requirement of state or federal law, requires adoption of a rule on fewer than 30 days’ notice.

There were 2,754 new novel coronavirus cases on August 24. As of that date, there have been a total of 580,384 cases of the novel coronavirus in Texas, with 11,395 deaths. Texas Tribune reports that there are currently 5,019 hospitalizations, a number that has decreased by nearly 1,200 from the previous week.

Last week, Gov. Abbott said that he would consider reopening bars if hospitalizations and case numbers declined dramatically and if the Texas positivity rate dropped below 10 percent for an unspecified extended period of time The state’s current positivity rate is 19.2 percent, according to Johns Hopkins’s coronavirus resource center.