New BYOB Proposal Highlights Misconceptions in Chicago Law

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THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED BELOW*

If your business is BYOB, here is some information that might actually save your license one day. It's a little-known aspect of the law that almost always gets reported incorrectly. More on that at the end of this post.

First, a little background.

The average person thinks that there is a BYOB law in Chicago. As of the writing of this post, there is no such thing as a BYOB law in Chicago. Because of this, hundreds of restaurant owners and other businesses are playing a guessing game as to what is allowed. As a result, Chicago Alderman Deborah Graham has been trying to tighten up Chicago's BYOB laws in Chicago for a while now. After her original proposal faced pushback in 2013, Alderman Graham has a new proposal in the works. It would make sure that banquet halls, art galleries, salons, and other businesses in dry areas can not offer BYOB. Restaurants, however, would be exempt.

Despite no previous clear direction about BYOB from City Council, it hasn't stopped Chicago's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (DBACP) from having opinions about BYOB. On its website, DBACP says that BYOB is permitted in a restaurant. But that creates more questions than answers because it also says that it does not allow BYOB at sidewalk cafes. It offers no explanation. Why is it OK at a restaurant, but not at a sidewalk cafe (which, of course, is usually part of a restaurant!)? Perhaps it is because a sidewalk cafe is a type of liquor license. But does that mean, then, that BYOB is disallowed at places like taverns? It is unclear. There's no law about that. Can a BYOB location serve? Uncork? It's all gray area. The bottom line is that without a clear law about BYOB, licensees are left in the dark about what they can and cannot do. Also, without clear law, DBACP can, at its whim, simply change its mind about what it thinks is allowed. Unfortunately, I have seen businesses get caught up in this confusion and disciplined by DBACP.

This leads us to the big misconception that could cause you to lose your license. There is a misconception that if a licensee is caught breaking the BYOB law (or ANY LAW), it will only face fines. This is just factually incorrect. The consequences can be much more severe. This misconception is so widespread that every article about the proposed new BYOB law misstates consequences. (see herehere, and here). In fact, I don't think I've seen an article about licensing ever accurately state Chicago's law correctly. That's just unfair and confusing for licensees.

Here's the scoop: if a person is caught breaking the BYOB law, that individual may face a maximum fine of $500 to $1,000. But that's not the law when it comes to licensees. The City of Chicago can fine, suspend, or revoke a license for ANY violation of the City's Code, any rule or regulation promulgated under the Code, or any applicable state or federal law (see 4-4-280 here).

The bottom line is that this stuff is too important to leave to chance. 

Get in touch with us if you need to discuss your specific issue.

by Daniel Rubinow, Principal Attorney

License Law Group

*Less than a month after posting this article, Chicago's City Council passed an ordinance allowing City Council to restrict BYOBs along certain stretches in Chicago. However, it doesn't apply to restaurants and as of February 2015, no restrictions have been passed.

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