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Governor signs bill to simplify business for caterers, hosts

 LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Rick Snyder today signed legislation allowing caterers with the proper approvals to provide alcohol at events that are not on their premises.

Under current law, establishments such as restaurants or hotels that provide catering services can supply the food and wait staff for a private event. They can even serve alcohol to guests but cannot supply it if the event is held at a location other than their licensed establishment, unless they also go through the process of purchasing and transferring an off-premises liquor license. The result is that beer, wine and spirits must be purchased from a retailer and transported to the event, preventing on-premises liquor licensees from providing alcoholic beverages at off-site catered events, even though they are licensed by the state to serve alcohol.

"We will continue to eliminate regulations that are needlessly cumbersome for families and businesses," Snyder said. "This new law simplifies the process for caterers and hosts while maintaining stringent safeguards concerning alcohol. It's a good step that lets small businesses know we want them to succeed." 

In general, the state's liquor code separates retail establishments that sell alcohol into two categories: off-premises licensees that sell alcohol to consumers for consumption off of the licensed premises, such as grocery stores; and on-premises licenses that sell alcohol for consumption on the licensed premises, such as bars and restaurants. A liquor license for on- or off-premises consumption applies only to sales and consumption at the catering establishment's location, not to events catered at a different site.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate. In addition to streamlining the process for the caterer and the host, it requires the permit holder to provide an employee for bartending services. Employees of on-premises liquor licensees already are trained to check identification and to refuse service to visibly intoxicated guests. The new law extends this requirement to employees of off-premises permit holders, which may minimize situations in which a host simply sets the alcohol on a table in a corner of the room where there is little or no supervision as to who accesses it.

There will be no restriction on the number of catering permits that can be issued within any local unit of government. The holder can use the permit at multiple locations and events during the same time period. However, the permit holder or employee must possess - while delivering the alcohol - documentation that the beer, wine or spirits being delivered are for a private event conducted under the law's provisions.

The application fee is $70 and the annual catering permit is $100.

S.B. 5 is now Public Act 20 of 2011.