Compliance Corner 3/24/20
The Compliance Corner
By Mary Beth Williams
COVID – The Legalities – Update #3 – 7p 3/24/20
We’ve gotten some additional clarification on the prohibition of service and sales for on-premises consumption. As we discussed on the call Tuesday, until 11:59pm on 4/23, wineries are directed to close all dining areas and congregation areas, but can continue to offer delivery, and carry out. We have previously been advised that that applies to both inside and outside areas. After further discussion with VDACS after the issuance of this order, the purpose of this prohibition is to encourage people to stay home, in part by eliminating the enticement to go out and gather, and as such, they want the on-premises portions of these businesses to close completely. They will broadly define “congregation areas” to include any area where people would be inclined to gather, including, but not limited to points of service or sales, and any designated seating area.
Further, VDACS says in a communication this afternoon that on-site browsing and shopping are not permissible under the intent of this order. To that end, it remains my belief that sales for on-premises consumption will not be permissible under this order, and that your avenues for sales are curbside pickup, delivery, and shipping. I do not believe they want people in the winery looking at the wines browsing to make a choice. They want people to call in an order (or text, email, app, or online place an order), they have people pull up, pay for the wine at their car, and you take the wine to the car. That’s the safest way to do it. Are you in jeopardy of being shut down for having someone get out of their car to come pay for and pick up their order? No, but certainly the plan is to limit interaction where the virus could be transferred.
This is new, and the boundaries have not been tested yet, and certainly additional clarification may be added, but I believe they will be enforcing this prohibition quite stringently. Remember that a violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor as well. If you were to allow people to purchase a bottle to go, and then go sit on a picnic blanket and consume it, I believe that could be deemed a congregation area, particularly if you had multiple people seated on blankets in a general area of your property. It flies at least in the face of the intent of the law, if not in the face of the actual language. I can’t give you much guidance beyond that at this point, but to say no on-premises sales should happen.
I hope that gives a little more clarity. We’ll keep you posted as other things develop.
Mary Beth Williams is the President of Williams Compliance and Consulting Group, LLC, a compliance services and legal consulting provider based in Hanover County, Virginia. For more information, contact Mary Beth at Marybeth@williamscompliance.com or (804) 445-2924.