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Published: May 12, 2023
The Governor signed HB 639 into law May 12, 2023 as chapter 2023-65, Laws of Florida. The law has two effects on the licensing of locations to sell alcoholic beverages.
While the law modifies the not-often seen cabana/beach club license criteria by allowing locations with either bathrooms and locker rooms with a capacity of more than a hundred persons to qualify, as well as those with a restaurant of any size, the more notable change was to s. 561.20(2)(a)4, F.S., the statute that authorizes DABT’s Series SFS licenses.
The new law lowers the statutory requirement for square footage of service area from 2,500 to 2,000, which is something that the restaurant industry has been championing for several years. However, many counties and cities have special laws in effect that modify the requirements to a lower square footage than the new general law, particularly in downtown areas. Thus, it’s likely that continued modification to this section will be advocated going by industry interests going forward.
Additionally, the law also modifies the service requirement, lowering the requisite number of patrons a location must be equipped to serve from 150 to 120. Unfortunately for DABT, the law also puts them back into the “chair counting” business after a seven-year reprieve, as the language requires that locations have at least 120 seats available for patrons during operating hours. Interestingly, the law doesn’t require that the seats be actually on the floor, simply “available”, so having the requisite number of chairs in on-site storage or the like appears to be permissible.
Oddly, the law did not fix the primary issue with the language of the statute, as the term “restaurant” still is not defined anywhere within the Beverage Law. In fact, the new language arguably makes the licensing of these locations even more murky by adding the term “bona fide” to the statute, while also requiring that a location “hold itself out as a restaurant”. With “restaurant” remaining undefined, DABT could face challenges in determining what a “bona fide” restaurant is, as well in determining how much or what type of activity qualifies as holding oneself out as a restaurant. The committee bill analyses did not address either of these concerns.
As a result, while the lowering the square footage and service requirements will likely be a small boon for the restaurant industry, the additional language adds additional regulatory requirements without providing the type of clarity advocated by both the industry and regulators alike.
Visit the following link to review the language, as enrolled, as the chapter law is not yet online: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/639/BillText/er/PDF.