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Can a bar serve alcohol without food in Ontario? (split from Ontario board)

Zengarden Jan 6, 2009 01:06 PM

Is it possible to serve alcohol legally if there is no food?

  1. b
    BruceMcK Mar 6, 2011 02:45 PM

    “The premises for which a licence is issued must be used primarily for the sale and service, for consumption on the premises, of light meals and liquor. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 719, s. 23 (2).”

    The licence holder shall ensure that light meals are available for sale to patrons on the premises. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 719, s. 35 (1).

    “The licence holder shall ensure that meals sold and served on the premises to which the licence applies are prepared on the premises or on nearby premises that are under the control of the licence holder. O. Reg. 346/93, s. 6.”

    An AGCO inspector told me a couple of years ago that licensed bars (including clubs) must have meals available for sale. The reason for this is to reduce the tendency to get intoxicated by drinking on an empty stomach, especially a bar or club where they might be reluctant to leave to get food. A full kitchen is not necessary; it could be microwave foods or brought in from a neighbouring restaurant. It tends to be applied in “throw the book at them” situations where the licensee is so far out of compliance they charge them with every possible infraction, knowing many of them will be bargained away. Note this applies to a general sales licence and there are exceptions like a theatre serving drinks before a performance.

    Free snacks don’t qualify. IMO, peanuts, chips etc. are given free to get people to drink more, especially salty or spicy snacks.

    I remember in the 1970s you could not get a drink in a bar on Sundays without ordering food. We would go to the local bar and order a cheese dog so we could get a beer.

    1. Ginsugirl Jan 7, 2009 10:28 AM

      A quick check with the AGCO, which regulates Liquor Licenses, states that all types of licensees: must serve food: " Light meals usually, but not always, include five main selections with at least four snacks or side dishes. The licensee must offer a selection that will allow a reasonable variety of meals, either as a single order or by combining orders."

      I believe they deliberately left the requirements vague, to be left up to the discretion of the inspectors (better hope he's not having a bad day!). This does apply to clubs, pubs and bars, so there are plenty of places in violation. There is no overt requirement for the food to be prepared on premises, so I guess that's left up to the Municipal health boards.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Ginsugirl
        DockPotato Jan 9, 2009 11:45 PM

        Curious - what is the "AGCO" - a branch of the Attorney General's Office?

        In living memory there not only had to be food on the premises, there had to be food on the table as well! Often the server would place a plate with couple of saltines and a cheese slice or two on the table for a group of us and charge for it even though that same plate simply moved around the room as patrons left.

        1. re: DockPotato
          Zengarden Jan 10, 2009 03:11 AM

          Alcohol and Gaming Commission of ONtario could be part of the Attorney General's office.

          1. re: DockPotato
            aznblitz Mar 4, 2011 02:06 PM

            Hey just had a quick question here...so say a customer comes in a just wants to order a beer to drink without ordering any food...in a sit down restaurant?? is it against the rules to serve them without having them buy some food in the process? thanks

            1. re: aznblitz
              Maximilien Mar 5, 2011 11:31 AM

              "is it against the rules to serve them without having them buy some food in the process?"

              Yes, usually, the waiter will tell the customer that he needs to order food to go with booze.

              That's why a lot of places have cheap nuts and chips ...

        2. h
          hungryabbey Jan 6, 2009 03:00 PM

          I was just thinking about that. I dont think it is legal, at least thats what I learned ages ago when I took smart serve.. They must serve something, at least some crappy chicken wings they can stick in the microwave if they were ever asked.

          7 Replies
          1. re: hungryabbey
            aser Jan 6, 2009 04:30 PM

            it is illegal in Ontario to serve alcohol in an establishment without a kitchen serving food.

            1. re: aser
              torontofoodiegirl Jan 6, 2009 04:41 PM

              What about clubs? (I haven't been to one in years, but I don't recall food being an option)

              I've only been to McCarthy's once, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Great, authentic Irish feel.

              1. re: torontofoodiegirl
                aser Jan 6, 2009 07:31 PM


                I'm pretty sure clubs still have to offer food, usually they solve this by offering deep fried/microwave options. Plus a kitchen is allowed to close earlier than last call.

                1. re: aser
                  ziggystardust Jan 6, 2009 07:36 PM

                  I'm curious if you could get around this somehow. Could one simply offer PB&J, and cheese sandwiches? How about simply grabbing take out from elsewhere and then adding on a sort of "corking fee"?

                  1. re: ziggystardust
                    Sooeygun Jan 7, 2009 05:44 AM

                    And does it have to be food for purchase. I thought I read somewhere that they could have free snacks (nuts, chips, etc) out.

                    1. re: Sooeygun
                      aser Jan 7, 2009 11:53 AM

                      yes free snacks counts, and like I said earlier, a kitchen can basically just be a microwave or a deep fry basket. Most places will just have a bunch of frozen stuff that they throw in the deep fryer.

                    2. re: ziggystardust
                      pinstripeprincess Jan 7, 2009 07:04 AM

                      i think the ktichen concept is quite loose for bars and more relies on the ability to produce food.

                      at one point i was told there should be a minimum number of options as well, say about 3, but i can't verify if this is true or not. i recall one bar in kingston offering microwave kraft dinner, pretzels and chips at minimal fees (say $1) to cover themselves.

                      no corkage fee needed i imagine.. i think this is just to make it easier for bars to cover their own butts by having something around that would absorb some alcohol. i mean they're really not supposed to allow people reach the level of intoxication that the grand majority do anyway.

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