Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 102, which reforms Ohio’s liquor laws, late last year; the new laws are effective March 23, 2022. Provisions affecting restaurants and bars include an increase in allowable outdoor eating areas and a lower age limit for handling, selling, and serving alcohol. The bill also clarifies rules for advertising on social media by the alcohol industry, expands Sunday alcohol sales, and spells out guidelines for auctioning alcohol by charitable or political organizations. Furthermore, Ohio liquor laws, formerly silent on homebrewing, now provide guidelines for the hobbyist.
Helping Restaurants and Bars Face the Challenges of a Pandemic
Hit hard during the COVID pandemic, many restaurants adapted by shifting the bulk of their service outdoors. Recognizing that outdoor eating areas will continue to be desirable for consumers and necessary to help restaurants survive new lockdowns or pandemics, the legislature expanded the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) laws.
Municipalities with a population over 50,000 now can have six DORAs instead of only four; each DORA must include at least four license holders. Smaller communities get one additional DORA (three instead of two), with each DORA including at least two license holders.
Seating was not the only problem restaurants suffered during the pandemic; many also were forced to lay off much of their staff. Unfortunately, they have found it nearly impossible to refill positions as business rebounded. To help restaurants with staffing problems, the updated laws now allow waitstaff as young as 18 to serve, handle, and sell alcohol in restaurants, bars, and hotels. The keyword is waitstaff, though; bartenders (i.e., anyone serving across a bar) must still be at least 21.
Refining Advertising Restrictions
Advertising laws for alcohol are typically strict to help limit use by children and those who are easily addicted or likely to abuse it. But existing laws primarily applied to traditional advertising channels: print media, billboards, TV, and radio.
Social media, however, has become the dominant advertising vehicle for most companies in recent years. The revisions allow alcohol manufacturers, distributors, and sale professionals to use free social media (rather than paid advertising) for advertising a limited range of events, such as on-site brand promotions or product tastings.
However, industry professionals must understand that the updates to Ohio’s liquor laws do not supersede or negate other federal and state laws. Advertising directed to people under the age of 21 remains prohibited.
Expanding Sunday Alcohol Sales
Blue laws effectively disappeared in 1973. Nonetheless, many communities throughout the state continue to limit Sunday sales. Following the enactment of SB102, holders of licenses that allow Sunday sales are no longer subject to strict hours limitations; instead, they may sell during the same hours open to them Monday-Saturday.
The revisions also make it easier for communities to get Sunday sales initiatives on the ballot. Now, petitions for allowing Sunday sales require only 50 signatures to make it on the ballot, rather than 35% of votes cast for governor in the prior election.
Clarifying Laws About Alcohol as Auction Prizes
SB102 makes it legal for charitable and political organizations to auction off bottles of alcohol. However, some conditions must be met, including purchasing the alcohol from an Ohio-based store.
Giving the Offical Nod to Homebrewing
Even though the federal government legalized homebrewing in 1978, Ohio had not stated whether homebrewers could operate without a license in the state. That all changed with SB102.
Now, homebrewers can rest assured that brewing without a license is perfectly acceptable. The new law also provides homebrewers the opportunity to showcase and share their products. Specifically, homebrewers can serve their beer or wine without a permit at events on private property or the premises of “a fraternal organization.”
Homebrewers can also participate in private clubs where they can serve their products without a license, allowing homebrewers to share knowledge and get tasting opinions from their fellow brewers. Restaurants, bars, and distilleries can also host these club meetings. But these commercial establishments must notify the Division of Liquor Control in advance of the meeting and suspend their own liquor license during the event. They must also clearly segregate their purchased alcohol from the homebrews.
There are limitations, however. Even though homebrewers can host private events, they can neither sell their products at these events nor charge a fee for people to drink them. Nor can a homebrewer receive any compensation for hosting or attending an event, other than competition prizes or reduced admission fees.
Homebrewers also have limits on how much they can make annually. Brewers with more than one person 21 or older in the house can produce 200 gallons of beer or wine a year; solo brewers are limited to 100 gallons.
SB102 clarifies various matters related to the sale and distribution of alcohol, and it expands options for restaurant and bar managers. It also puts laws on the books regarding homebrewing, including the right to brew beer at home without a permit.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is merely intended to provide a very general overview of a certain area of the law. Nothing in this article is intended to create an attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. You should not rely on anything in this article without first consulting with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. If you have specific questions about your matter, please contact an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.