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Charlie Baker Is Stepping up Enforcement of the Requirement That Restaurants Accompany Booze With Food

In his latest COVID-19 press conference, Gov. Baker discussed a crackdown on “bars masquerading as restaurants” while also tightening regulations on outdoor gatherings

Closeup of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker at a press conference, wearing a suit and standing in front of the American flag and the Massachusetts flag
Gov. Charlie Baker appears at a press conference in July 2020
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced several updates to the state’s pandemic response in his August 7 COVID-19 briefing, including an update to restaurant guidelines to make it explicit that alcoholic beverages cannot be served unless they are accompanied with food prepared on site.

As currently written, the rules state that no bar seating is allowed inside restaurants, and bars that don’t serve food aren’t allowed to operate (and won’t reopen until the distant phase four of the state’s reopening plan, which requires effective COVID-19 treatment or a vaccine). But a series of violations — including an underground bar in the basement of a pizzeria in Chicopee; the bar at a popular Chinese restaurant in Marshfield opening in defiance of state regulations, hosting more than 100 mostly unmasked guests; and a hotel in Gardner hosting a wedding with 190 people in attendance — forced the Governor to tighten regulations.

“Bars are closed in Massachusetts, and bars masquerading as restaurants also need to be closed,” Baker said during his briefing. He also said that he was “authorizing all state and local police officers to enforce these orders and event hosts who violate these orders will be subject to fines.” The orders were previously enforced by health and inspection officials in individual municipalities. The governor also announced that he was creating a COVID-19 enforcement and intervention team to work in high-risk communities.

When the state first announced its multi-phase reopening plan in May, it did so with a caveat: If COVID-19 cases began to spike, the governor could scale back the extent of the state’s reopening. Gov. Baker’s latest announcement isn’t that, exactly, but it is a warning: Follow the rules, or risk another shutdown.

“Now we are seeing the virus escalate in certain communities around the Commonwealth and we have to put together a plan working together to stop it,” Baker said during his briefing. “This fight against COVID-19 is far from over.”

As of August 6, the state has seen over 111,000 confirmed cases, with nearly 8,500 deaths, and there have been some small spikes in the number of newly reported cases in recent days.

Baker also announced that he was reducing the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people. It’s unclear at the moment whether that move could impact restaurants with large patio capacities. Eater has reached out to the governor’s office for more information and will update this post when that information is made available.

Baker Slows Mass. Reopening Process, Tightening Restrictions on Gatherings and Restaurants [BG]
Ready or Not, Massachusetts Restarts Indoor Dining Today [EBOS]
Police Shut Down Illegal Bar Underneath Mass. Pizza Shop [NBC]
Marshfield Restaurant Punished for Violating COVID-19 Guidelines [PL]
Mass. Hotel Accused of Hosting 300-Person Wedding, Despite Warnings [BBJ]