Among the many liquor laws passed this legislative session by the Tennessee General Assembly, one of the biggest changes, in our humble opinion, is the new Open Carry law. P.C. 755 allows restaurants, hotels and other liquor-by-the-drink establishments to serve alcohol into common areas and allow adjacent restaurant patrons to bring alcoholic beverages into their restaurant. You can now walk between restaurants with your cocktail, glass of wine or mug of suds.
How does it work? First, the restaurants must be "contiguous," our fancy lawyerly term for connected. For example, a common outdoor patio or interior dining space may connect two restaurants, making them “contiguous.”
In order to take advantage of the new open carry law, the ABC advises that establishments must first file an application to expand the licensed premises to include the adjacent restaurant. If additional space, such as a common patio or courtyard are added in order to connect the two restaurants, the application must also include the new common space. Applications must be accompanied by a $300 filing fee and permission to use any additional space.
The law requires that restaurants use branded cups, so ABC agents can determine where folks purchased their alcoholic beverages. We see this as primarily a means to track sales to minors and intoxicated persons.
The open carry law does not work if there is any sort of gap between the two restaurants, such as a public street. The restaurants must be connected in order to enjoy the open carry privileges.
We see the new law working especially well for multiple restaurants that share a common space, such as a food court in a mall or several restaurants that connect to a common patio.
Normal rules about fencing patios to prevent guests from leaving with an alcoholic beverage still apply. Restaurants will also be responsible to ensure that patrons do not leave common spaces with an alcoholic beverage.
The new law specifically includes beer. We suspect that most beer boards will want some sort of notice or new application before allowing beer to be carried between two establishments. In addition to applying with the ABC, we encourage restaurants to seek approval from their local beer board.
All this walking around with a beer makes us think of a line from our favorite Hank Williams, Jr. tune, There’s a Tear in My Beer:
"I’m gonna keep drinkin’
Till I can’t move a toe
And then maybe, my heart won’t hurt me so."
P.C. 755 also contains a provision that could be interpreted as allowing restaurants to expand into additional areas, such as parking lots or adjacent fields. We believe the language does not create any new rights for restaurants to expand. It merely states an unwritten policy that has been in effect for years. A restaurant can have an exterior patio, provided it is properly fenced, for example.
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