Chicken Wings, Sandwiches & More Deemed Not A 'Meal' As California's Alcoholic & Beverage Control Releases Guidelines

July 23, 2020

As Governor Gavin Newsom and the State of California continue to reinstitute certain safeguards amid a continued COVID-19 surge, including only allowing alcoholic beverages to be served alongside a meal, the state's alcohol control agency has issued guidelines as to what constitutes a 'meal'. Unfortunately, certain items like chicken wings, some sandwiches and fries have been deemed not to qualify.

San Diego County's rewind of opening measures for indoor operations at restaurants (outdoor, pick up or drive-through can occur), wineries and tasting rooms began on July 7 and will remain in effect for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 numbers continue to surge. Throughout California, alcoholic beverages are only permitted to be served alongside a meal and bars and breweries that do not serve food were ordered to close. To clarify the definition of a 'meal', the California Alcoholic and Beverage Control announced a list of items that do not qualify.

The ABC guidance, entitled "What is required to be considered a 'meal'?" specifically states certain items do not meet the meal requirement, including snacks such as pretzels, nuts, popcorn, pickles, and chips; food ordinarily served as appetizers such as cheese sticks, fried calamari, chicken wings, pizza bites (as opposed to a pizza), egg rolls, pot stickers, flautas, cups of soup, and any small portion of a dish that may constitute a main course when it is not served in a full portion or when it is intended for sharing in small portions; side dishes such as bread, rolls, French fries, onion rings, small salads (green, potato, macaroni, fruit), rice, mashed potatoes, and small portions of vegetables; reheated refrigerated or frozen entrees; and desserts.

"It is often easier to describe what does not constitute a bona fide meal," reads the California ABC guidance. "In that regard, while the statute excludes mere offerings of sandwiches and salad, the Department does recognize that many sandwiches and salads are substantial and can constitute legitimate meals. Once again, the Department looks at the totality of circumstances and generally considers that pre-packaged sandwiches and salads would not typically meet this standard."

As someone who typically eats meals consisting solely of chicken wings, a sandwich, or even smothered French fries, it's hard not to question the state's logic. Either way, hopefully this incentivizes San Diego eateries to increase the "meat-to-bread ratio" of its typically undersized sandwiches.