Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Texas Eases Rules for Bars

Happy Hour may be returning for some shuttered Texas drinking establishments. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has issued new guidance that allows businesses to reclassify their status as a restaurant versus a bar. Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close for in-house service in late June due to a rise in coronavirus cases statewide, with a "bar" defined as any business that derives at least 51% of its revenue from alcohol sales.

The new guidance lets businesses apply to reopen based on changes they've made since the start of the pandemic. "What the TABC is saying is we will give you an opportunity to reclassify your alcohol-to-food sales ratio since April 1st," says attorney Jared Woodfill, who represents about 100 bar owners suing the state. "If you can show that your food sales are now above 51 percent or that your alcohol sales are below 51 percent, then you can reclassify as a restaurant, and then open."

The revised rules will help businesses like wineries and distilleries, along with those that made changes to their business in recent months to get under the 51-percent threshold. But Woodfill says for many bars it is not feasible, and for others it is too late already. "Most of these owners that I represent have already lost their life savings, their employees are looking for work and getting government benefits right now, unable to feed their families," he tells KTRH.

"(The TABC) is just playing with the numbers," says Woodfill. "If it's that simple a fix, why don't we just allow them to open? If we're allowing tattoo studios and cosmetologists to be open at 100%, and we're allowing a whole host of other businesses the governor has deemed essential to be open at 100%, why are we sentencing bar owners to bankruptcy?"

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