Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Issues Fines to Restaurants and Bars Violating Social Distancing Measures

Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during his testimony before a Senate subcommittee on September 16 that wearing face masks may be more effective than a vaccine at protecting against COVID-19. What is surprising is the authority tasked with enforcing public health requirements for face masks in the District–the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

During Phase Two of Mayor Bowser’s re-opening plan, the D.C. government enacted several public health measures to allow businesses to operate while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.  The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) is tasked with implementing regulations and enforcing public health measures applicable to restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments in the District. To that end, ABRA has enacted several emergency regulations in furtherance of the mayor’s public health guidance. Most notably, under the emergency regulations, all establishments serving alcohol in the District must meet a series of conditions, including:

  • Providing and requiring that wait staff wear masks;
  • Requiring that patrons wear masks or face coverings when waiting in line inside or outside of the establishment or while traveling to use the restroom;
  • Limiting indoor capacity to no more than 50 percent of the lowest indoor occupancy load or seating capacity on the business’ certificate of occupancy;
  • Placing indoor or outdoor tables at least six feet apart from one another;
  • Ensuring that all indoor and outdoor dining customers are seated and place orders and are served food or alcoholic beverages at tables;
  • Not having more than six individuals seated at a table or a joined table outside or inside;
  • Requiring background or recorded music at a conversational level that is not heard in the homes of District residents; and
  • Prohibiting standing at indoor and outdoor bars and only permit seating at indoor or outdoor bars that are not being staffed or utilized by a bartender.

Since the beginning of Phase Two of the mayor’s re-opening plan, ABRA inspectors have aggressively enforced the regulations through warnings, fines, and suspension/revocation of liquor licenses. Between June 25 and September 22 2020, ABRA has issued over 100 citations to restaurants and bars throughout the District, including 27 fines and six summary suspensions of licenses.

Through aggressive enforcement, the District government and ABRA are clearly emphasizing the importance of upholding public health measures at restaurants and bars as a key method to fight the spread of COVID-19. Bars and restaurants can expect continued enforcement and must focus on strict compliance with public health regulations, especially with the global pandemic continuing into late-2020 and beyond.

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Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

Cozen O’Connor has represented residential, commercial, retail, and industrial builders in the development and redevelopment of building lots and millions of square feet of real estate. Our team handles every aspect of the zoning, land use, and development approvals process, from obtaining building permits and variances to negotiating stormwater management and traffic plans.

Head of the DC Zoning Group & Blog Editor