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The Tennessee ABC has new rules for catering alcoholic beverages. 

The new rules add specific requirements for what constitutes a commercial catering kitchen. To qualify for a catering license, applicants “are required to have a commercial kitchen, which must include a food stove or cooktop, an oven, a refrigerator, a freezer, a sink, and counterspace necessary to prepare food for commercial purposes."

Restaurants will easily meet the requirements for a commercial catering kitchen. The new rules make it more difficult for venues and bars to qualify for a catering license.

The new rules also clarify that caterers must prepare food for each catered event. Bringing at least one item of food prepared by the caterer was previously an unwritten requirement. The new rules provide a little more flexibility: food can either be prepared in the caterer’s commercial kitchen “or in a kitchen where the event will be held."

The new rules require "some food items present and available for consumption" that are prepared by the caterer. We previously understood that popping popcorn from scratch in the caterer's commercial kitchen counted as prepared food, for purposes of meeting the food requirement at a catered event.

Does a caterer now have to bring three different flavors of house-made popcorn to meet the "some food" requirement? Or does a dozen bags of buttered popcorn suffice? 

The Supremes sing a little double entendre about the topic: 

He took me to a show (buttered popcorn)

He said he wanted some more (buttered popcorn)

I said kiss me please (buttered popcorn)

He said after I eat (buttered popcorn)

I said what do you like

He says you know what I like

I like (buttered popcorn)

The complete ABC rules for catering are here.

It will be interesting to see if the ABC retroactively enforces the new kitchen equipment requirements for existing catering locations. Some caterers will no longer qualify, unless they add kitchen equipment. 

Beer catering.

We have seen a number of beer boards across the state implement new beer permits for catering. Nashville has required a beer catering permit for years, but Knoxville, Memphis and a handful of other cities now have beer catering permits.

Previously, the ABC has informally allowed ABC-licensed caterers to also cater beer, unless local law requires a beer catering permit or local law prohibits catering beer. If the city or county where the caterer is located issues beer catering permits, the caterer must obtain a beer catering permit before being able to cater beer.

A caterer only needs a beer catering permit for the city or county where the caterer is located. Although the caterer may need to file a notice of catered event for catering beer to an adjacent city, for example, the caterer does not have to obtain a beer permit from the adjacent city. At least that’s the informal unwritten policy. 

The new ABC catering rules do not address beer. We presume that there has been no change in the informal ABC guidance concerning catering beer with an ABC catering license.

Catering procedures. 

Caterers are still required to file notices of catered events in RLPS within two business days of the event. Caterers with beer catering permits also have to file notices with the local beer board.  The requirements for beer catering notices vary from city to city.

Caterers are responsible for violations of liquor laws, including sales to minors and sales to intoxicated persons.

Only a TABC-licensed server may pour alcohol at a catered event.

Caterers should post a copy of the ABC catering license at the location of the catered event. If a beer catering permit is required by the city, we recommend that caterers post a copy of the beer permit. 

Caterers can provide hosted bar services, where the host pays for the alcohol, such as a wedding or corporate retreat. Caterers can also sell alcohol by the drink to guests. 

Caterers can provide trained servers to pour a host’s alcohol. Legally, this is not a catered event, since the caterer is not selling its alcohol. A caterer should not file a notice of catered event when providing catering services, but not pouring the caterer's alcohol.

Caterers are required to collect and pay the 15% liquor by the drink tax on wine, spirits and high gravity beer. There is no liquor by the drink tax due on regular beer. Caterers are also required to collect and pay sales tax on wine, spirits and all beer. 

Caterers can only cater to locations where it is legal to serve liquor by the drink. There are still a significant number of locations where it is illegal to serve liquor by the drink in Tennessee, including outside the city limits in most counties. It is also illegal to cater alcohol to dry areas. We encourage caters to check before agreeing to cater to a rural farm, for example.

Caterers can transport alcohol to catered events as early as 8:00 AM on the day of the catered event. Alcohol must be removed from the catered premises by noon the following day.

Wholesalers cannot legally deliver alcohol to a catered event. Wholesalers can only deliver to the licensed catering hall.

We recommend that caterers have the ABC catering license and, if applicable, the local beer catering permit, in the vehicle when transporting alcohol. Officer Friendly might have questions if you are hauling around a van full of alcohol without a license. Particularly if you have cranked up the Supreme's “Buttered Popcorn” on the radio.

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