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Legality of Supper Club in Home...

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I have had an idea brewing in my mind for a while, but am curious about the ethical and legal potholes it could bring. At the very least, a discussion is in order.

I love to cook, I think I'm fairly good at it, and I love hosting parties. Unfortunately, people rarely come and when they do, I feel like the food is under-appreciated- it is not usually the emphasis of the gathering. So, I had the idea of a supper club- invite four people once or twice a month, at random (1st 4 to respond to an ad, an online invitation, etc, even random strangers if there is interest) to create a 4-course meal with wine/cocktail pairings for a small fee, or do as some dinner clubs do and put out a basket for anonymous donations. It wouldn't be explicitly for the money, but it would help to offset the fees of cooking and executing such a dinner.

I am chiefly concerned about the issues this could bring and how they would be dealt with- allergies, illness, licenses. If there is a transaction involved, does that make it a business? (I'm a 1L so we haven't gotten that far in contracts yet, ha ha) If no set fee is charged and people donate at their own discretion, is that income? I'm really curious because I want to achieve something casual, yet really fun- in between a party and a restaurant, and am curious to hear your thoughts. I just love the idea of spontaneous, seasonal dinners with mystery menus and want to know how I could best do this and share what I love. And it could be a great way to meet new, food-loving people. :-)

Thank you for your suggestions and input!

Please note that I am not looking for explicit legal advice. I am more interested in fostering a dialogue on this theoretical party that I would eventually like to actualize.

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  1. Consult a lawyer.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      I'm not asking for explicit or binding legal advice- I haven't gotten that far in the planning where that's necessary. I'm simply asking for more experiential information that may or may not include legal snags. Thanks for the helpful tip, though!

      1. re: zammdogg

        You don't seem to be asking for legal advice, but your proposal is not legal.

        1. re: John E.

          Okay- that's what I was curious about. Again, because it was such a broad idea, legal advice would not really be prudent, but simply knowing that it is not legal is still important. Bummer.

          1. re: John E.

            If you are running a business out of your home, even a part time one, the zoning in most municipalities require that it not have an impact on the neighborhood, such as that caused by traffic, parking, noise, smells, etc. At 4 people a couple of times a month you are on the borderline of creating a nuisance depending on your neighborhood. I knew of someone who did catering out of their house. Eventually they started using their house for the events to be held in on occasion - the neighbors soon complained and that was the end of that. Health regulations become a whole other issue.

          2. re: zammdogg

            You write: "I'm not asking for explicit or binding legal advice"

            Really?

            What part of the title of your post am I not understanding?

            >>>LEGALITY of Supper Club in Home<<< (emphasis own)

            1. re: ipsedixit

              YOU!!!!........You......you're good Ipse!! That's a trained eye for ya!

              1. re: jrvedivici

                Ipse,

                My proposed title was "Potential legality, recipe, cocktail, guest, monetary benefit and risk, health, conversation, venue, and lighting questions regarding an imagined, but not yet realized supper club in home," but that was a little too large for Chow, so I simplified it. I'm pretty sure there's a difference between explicit, binding legal advice and general issues that might come up.

                Thanks again- I think I have a lot of great information, but I appreciate your points.

        2. Perhaps you can start a Meetup group and charge event fees. That way, only like-minded people would join the meetup. People who are available for the time/date of your event and are interested in the food theme of the evening would RSVP. You can advertise the event fee as a way to offset the cost of "refreshments" and as a way to avoid no-shows.

          You could then let others host events also and be a guest instead of an organizer. Either way, you'll get to meet like-minded people and talk food.

          http://help.meetup.com/customer/porta...

          1. I'm sorry I can't answer your questions, but I wondered if you have heard of eatwith.com? It sounds pretty similar to what you've described.

            1. Google "underground restaurant" and you'll find information like this:

              http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20...

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undergro...

              1. Sounds like you should be an eatwith.com host

                http://www.eatwith.com/

                As a 1L you have time for this?

                7 Replies
                1. re: Bkeats

                  http://www.eatwith.com/#!/brand/safety

                  While the fairly new Eat With company appears to be growing rapidly and plenty of marketing endorsements appear on their site, the legal Q&A is very thin in print, with plenty of caveats that are printed.

                  I'd like to know what liability coverage exists at the host stage; not the booking agent/service stage. When I inquired, I didn't get many answers.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    Eatwith looks like a lot of fun. Sadly, not in my area (yet).

                    1. re: tcamp

                      Fun, sure. As an example of cooking in the home for a fee, I'd want more intel.

                      A Rep from EatW posted on CH recently inviting members to join, participate and inquire. So I did.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        There was a miso making class in someone's NYC area home that intrigued me.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          No kidding. Are you gonna call and ask for more info? Might be interesting to find out the dealie-o.

                    2. re: HillJ

                      They have liability coverage- but currently, only for hosts in Israel and Spain. That gives me pause for thought for using it now, but if they were to expand for the future, I might consider it.

                    3. re: Bkeats

                      I'll definite check out eatwith- as for time, no, not to implement, but to dream, yes!

                    4. I co-own a BnB in CA, at the start we fostered dialogues with other BnB's and small hotels to 'pick their knowledgeable' brains and they all recommend seeking out legal and local protocols FIRST. The creativity can't float without it.

                      Join a club if you haven't already to make sure this is EXACTLY what you want to do. It may turn out there are parts you like and parts you don't. Focus on DO.

                      It costs money to make money or break even-is no lie. A business plan. Contact a SCORE.org counselor if you don't have a concrete business/financial plan. SCORE is a free service.

                      If you want to meet food loving people-take classes and network.

                      If your idea (which is very cool btw) takes flight, register, register, register!

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        HillJ, I had no idea you were the part owner of a BnB in California. Just a wild guess off the top of my head...excellent food, fun hosts and great shows on the TV? :-)

                        If you have a link, please feel free to share it. My SO and I spend a significant amount of time in CA each year and are always looking for new and interesting places to stay.

                        1. re: Fowler

                          Kind of you Fowler. But advertising here would be a violation of CH guidelines. I can share that our BnB guests are primarily industry folks that need an overnight (or two at most) while on assignment. The flexibility of last minute reservations and change of plans accommodations was missing from the scene and my partner and I are trying to address that niche business. We don't penalize and we don't lock in guests..and we're still managing to stay afloat.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            "we don't lock in guests"

                            That is good because no one would want to know that they could check out any time they would like but could never leave.

                            1. re: Fowler

                              Damn, now Hotel California is buzzing through my brain...

                              1. re: Fowler

                                You could write our theme song Fowler!

                              2. re: HillJ

                                ....if you wouldn't mind contacting me via the address on my profile I'd certainly appreciate it.....

                          2. You may not be asking for explicit legal advice but that's what you need.

                            Your idea poses some serious compliance and liability issues for you . What you need is a very clear idea of what they are before you go much further in your thinking.

                            Better to consult a lawyer than a food message board.

                            I am a lawyer and will just remind you that should you run afoul of the law, it will be a factor considered when you apply for your law license.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Of course! I always appreciate the reminder- believe you me, I'm staying as careful as I can. :) I don't know when this would come to fruition- one, five, ten years down the line, but wanted to do some research in advance, whatever the timeframe.

                            2. Also check your city bylaws concerning hygiene issue with "commercial" kitchen.

                              1. You've received excellent advice thus far, just a few thoughts I have after reading your post.

                                Inviting strangers into your home..........?

                                Wine/cocktail pairings, and charging a fee....?

                                Wine/cocktail pairings = HUGE liability......?

                                Proceed carefully my friend.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                  I had it in mind when we were studying premises liability and social guests, haha- again, though, this is nothing more than a giant hypothetical for the moment. :)

                                2. Any legal issues will depend on what jurisdiction you are under. There can be differences between countries and, indeed, within countries. As such, do not depend on views expressed on any internet discussion board but seek advice locally.

                                  That said, supper clubs are now well established in a number of countries and appear not to be scutinised by the authorities. Of course, that may well be that it is on such a small scale that it has not reached the attention of said authorities. I suspect that, in most jurisdictions, the fact money changes hands only as a "donation" means that the operator can avoid some aspects of running a restaurant. I also suspect that it is a very grey area as to whether tax authorites would regard the donation as income.

                                  I've only been to a supper club on one occasion. Found it great fun and the food was excellent (Punjabi home cooking). My best advice, if you havent already done so, is go and visit a couple of supper clubs in your area. You'll see what the competition is and, probably, be able to get some great tips from the operators

                                  You might find this a useful read: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supper-Club-R...

                                  1. In my area you would be selling both food and alcohol and both require licenses. Further, you would have to have a commercial kitchen.

                                    Now, there may be a ton of loop-holes. Are they actually buying something, are you profiting? Or are they just helping split the costs? Consult an attorney.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                      It's definitely something to look into- at the very least, it makes me curious about where the line is drawn from a profiting restaurant to a hosted dinner party. Food for thought- ha! Great advice, though.

                                    2. Well, you've gotten advice across the board from well-versed people, so here's my piece: if you do it, CLEAN OUT YOUR MEDICINE CABINET in any accessible bathroom. Seriously.
                                      I can see how fun this might be. But inviting strangers into my home gives me a LOT of pause. There would have to be some vouching, reference or vetting procedure for me to feel comfortable.

                                      15 Replies
                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        Including how do the neighbors jive with such an enterprise?
                                        Noise, guest parking, trash, occupancy rules, fire marshall, etc.

                                        Yeah, the list is long.

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Yup, I did a "preparing for your license" class in my home, with a lawyer's consult prior, and issues of parking, smoking, neighbors, possible theft, accidents, liabilities, all figured prominently. And that was with No food and No alcohol.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            Double yup, pine t. Back in the day, when I ran a weekend breakfast service the 'rules' where so loose & fast I was able to do a few things that today would never fly without tons of oversight. And if I'm being honest, I was nervous back then but took chances I wouldn't take today.

                                          2. re: HillJ

                                            I don't anticipate that it would be too noisy or too populated- small apartment, quiet people, hopefully. This idea came from a blog post I read, the title unfortunately forgotten, where the author cooked a 22-course tasting menu for some 10-odd friends, for his own birthday. I just love the idea of that and was wondering if it was viable or if there was any way to offset the cost of the meal.

                                            1. re: zammdogg

                                              You post very interesting ideas/questions. If the world of liability hadn't change so damn much in my lifetime, I wouldn't be joining the LOUD and supportive fray that is encouraging you to inquire about your legal responsibility.

                                              Once you invite payment, the axis changes...no matter the occasion for celebration. Not knowing the entire back story to your example on the 22 course meal (holy cow!) I can't comment as to whether or not it's a valid example for your purposes.

                                              I do have a question though, do you have any reason to hesitate asking for advice from SCORE.org or a general inquiry to a local attorney? Because if you do, that changes my focus and answers.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                Not at all! I guess I'm mainly hesitating because I lack the time- I'd prefer to make more solid inquiries once I really want to commit to doing this within, say, a six month to a year time frame. As you said, the world of liability changes- I'd just rather do this closer to its implementation.

                                                I do have many family members and friends who are attorneys, and I'm sure I could ask them to entertain the idea. Score was new to me, so I'll put an inquiry there, too. I chose Chow because I wanted food-passionate and feedback on the overall idea first, with restaurant and legal expertise added in. It might be more relevant to a business inquiry, though.

                                                1. re: zammdogg

                                                  Excellent! I would start by seeking out your potential competition or as close to it that may exist like a caterer and pick their brain.

                                                  SCORE.org is an outstanding outlet for advice, at every stage.

                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                    Thank you- I'll definitely use it for this and likely, in the future, too. :)

                                                  2. re: zammdogg

                                                    As for TIME..well you obviously don't need a lecture about the amount of time it will require to get this idea off the ground...so I won't :)

                                                    1. re: zammdogg

                                                      Personally,

                                                      I think it makes more sense to conceptualize within known parameters.

                                                      Sure, you'll get great ideas, but why spend brain power on ones that cannot be fulfilled because of state/local rules, liability concerns or general impracticalities?

                                                      Knowing the ground rules first helps you better evaluate all the information and resources provided to you on boards like this.

                                                      1. re: C. Hamster

                                                        Hah, spoken like a true lawyer! Not that I disagree.

                                                        Dare to dream....within a defined legal framework.

                                                        1. re: tcamp

                                                          "Dare to dream....within a defined legal framework"

                                                          You put that very well!!

                                                          1. re: C. Hamster

                                                            I believe nearly everyone responding to the OP is suggesting just that! But you do have to present your business plan to a certain degree to engage legal advice. Knowing what kind of money you're talking about can be assisted by asking working pros and knowing how to draw up some business savvy is most def. within the parameters of a SCORE counselor. Who may turn around and make many of the same suggestions offered here.

                                                            The 'ole collective wisdom CH is so good at!

                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                              My thought is that a "business plan" i.e . charging and making money at said venture is at the crux of the legal issues.

                                                              Before a business plan, find out about the $$ situation.

                                                              Charging money for something generally changes the whole legal scenario.

                                                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                I defer to your expertise, C.Ham. I also agree as I said in several comments here. Without discouraging new business ideas from passionate people, I've been a business owner and a partner in four separate ventures myself. Each and every one involved a laundry list of start up items and retaining legal advice was always on my checklist...even when I didn't know what the hell I was doing..I had people just like the folks on this thread who offered advice, warnings and a host of experiences that led me towards real solid advice.

                                                                And YES YES YES the minute you add commerce to the mix, the mix changes :)

                                            2. The concept is similar to the paladares in Cuba. It works there, but the laws there are vastly different.

                                              1. Here's a somewhat different approach that sounds like a lot of work but a lot of fun: http://thephoenix.com/boston/food/144...

                                                I can't find the right person but remember that at least 10 yrs ago in the Boston area, there was a young man who cooked ingredient challenge meals in his apartment for paid attendees. He got a lot of local media coverage, no legal trouble that I know of, and became a professional cook in this area. I think his name was Mike or Mark. Someone on the Boston board is sure to know the details.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  Interesting point made in the article, this company received a grant from the Awesome Foundation to expand horizons.

                                                  Love the play on words business name.

                                                2. A student at Duke did something similar a few years back and caught the attention of the county health department.
                                                  http://www.newsobserver.com/2007/10/2...
                                                  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/30/mag...

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: AreBe

                                                    Just in looking at the two links- is it just at the whim of the health department, then? The two student-run kitchens don't appear to be too different.

                                                    1. re: zammdogg

                                                      Both articles are about Bryan Zupon's Z Kitchen. I don't think "whim" is appropriate. Different jurisdictions have different laws and approaches to enforcement. But sure, some will be arbitrary & capricious.

                                                      1. re: AreBe

                                                        Sorry, I ought to have clarified- I read your two articles about Z Kitchen as well as the link offered by greygarious about Social Colander.

                                                  2. It sounds like a great idea & a lot of fun, but there so many different issues. You would have to make sure your kitchen was able to pass county health department codes. You old need a business license. You would need a liquor permit (even if it is just for beer & wine). Usually, this requires a public pisting of the application. While 10 people may not seem like a huge number, different communities have difference rules regarding noise and parking. You would need to file sales tax returns.

                                                    If you want to try this out, then you might consider if it's possible to rent a catering kitchen. However, I doubt that you will be able to find a place willing to let you serve alcohol. And, it would definitely lose points fot atmosphere. If this is just a whim, then let it remain a fantasy. If its something you really want to do, the consult a lawyer and an accountant.

                                                    There is a great resource called Small Business Taxes Made Easy, which you can borrow from the library or find inexpensively. It has some wonderful advice on how to setup a business. It may help you decide how viable your idea is.

                                                    Good luck!

                                                    (sorry, didn't mean for this to to be so accusatory. I have a horrible memory of how my mother's great catering idea turned into a two-year money pit of a restaurant in the SFV.

                                                    1. It's a good thing that you are not looking for explicit legal advice because you have not provided enough information to receive it.

                                                      Jurisdictions have differnt laws and regulations, you have not identified yours, and I doubt I am a member of the bar in your state.

                                                      Check out:
                                                      Your local zoning ordinances
                                                      Your health district/department regulations concerning the sale of home/cooked/baked goods from the occasional chef
                                                      Neighborhood parking regs
                                                      Your insurance coverage...liability, fire, etc
                                                      Do you own your home or are to subject to a landlord's rules?

                                                      and....be very careful if you are charging for this meal and providing wine pairings you may be subject to all the state and local liqour laws............................

                                                      and as a 1L who hasn't gotten far in Contracts...remember a contract may be formed that does not involve a business but a transaction by 2 individuals.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                        Connecticut...and you're giving me Restatement PTSD over here. ;)

                                                        1. re: zammdogg

                                                          well, Zammdog...my doubts were wrong. I live and practice here in CT. BUT I can't give legal advice in this forum.

                                                          All of the above was presented to you as business advice from my almost 40 years as a Business Consultant starting with an education at Wharton in the earkly 70s.

                                                          ...........................................................................
                                                          ecluding the above, you should still go ahead with you dream, but invite your participants to share in the cost of ingredients and BYOB. Start with friend and friends of friends. There are too many crazies out there to just post on CL and invite them into your home......................

                                                      2. i do not play a lawyer on the interwebz. :-}

                                                        having 4 people over for dinner a few times per year hardly seems like a neighborhood nuisance as some have suggested

                                                        i know between-gig chefs who do "pop-up" dinners at friends' homes. money is charged, wine is served. these are not licensed establishments and i don't know if this is considered all that different from folks tossing money into a kitty for a big meal at a buddy's house.

                                                        friends invite friends -- not random strangers.

                                                        if somebody did get involved in any kind of dui after? a shitstorm could very well ensue.

                                                        eta:

                                                        if you invite people who regularly don't show up for delicious food, you need new friends.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                          This.
                                                          "if somebody did get involved in any kind of dui after?"