Coronavirus News

TABC loosens COVID-19 requirements to help bars in Houston survive

TABC loosens COVID-19 requirements to help bars in Houston survive

Antone's downtown venue Fifth Street 2016 bar liquor bottles alcohol brands
Bars get a break from the TABC. Photo by Daniel Cavazos

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has cut some slack on the rules regarding Texas bars, which it says will make it easier for bars to reopen under current COVID-19 restrictions.

The TABC approved a new amendment that removes certain obstacles and theoretically makes it easier for bars to be classified as restaurants.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott's current order, bars are not allowed to be open. Restaurants and restaurant with bars are allowed, as long as 51 percent or more of their sales comes from food.

A flurry of bars that serve food have applied for a certificate in which they operate as restaurants. But that process has been complicated by restrictions, which the TABC has now removed.

There are three obstacles removed:

  • Commercial cooking equipment is no longer required
  • Commercially pre-packaged items can be counted
  • Food trucks can also be counted

TABC's amendments are to Rule 33.5, which covers food and beverage certificates. The new amendment goes into effect immediately. It means that:

  • Bars can now reopen even if they don't have commercial-grade kitchens.
  • Food prepared off-site, including packaged items, can now be sold at bars.
  • Bars can now partner with food trucks and count those sales toward the TABC's rule that food must represent 51 percent or more of their gross revenue.

Bars and restaurants have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and especially bars. Gov. Abbott closed them down in March, then allowed them to reopen May 22, then abruptly shut them down again on June 26.

"Many establishments that would have otherwise remained shuttered will be able to reopen and operate in a safe manner due to these amendments," the TABC amendment says. "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," it says.

Bar owners still must apply for a Food & Beverage Permit. And while there are now fewer restrictions from the TABC, it doesn't take into account what's happening within individual cities, who would have to sign off on new certificates of occupancy that go along with these changes, representing possibly another set of hurdles and expenses.