We have been getting many questions regarding what is actually considered meals per ABC terms. There is no black and white answer but let us elaborate. Business and Professions Code section 23038 states, “’Meals’ means the usual assortment of foods commonly ordered at various hours of the day; the service of such food and victuals only as sandwiches or salads shall not be deemed a compliance with this requirement.”

ABC understands that there are various types of food available at many licensed premises. This term may seem very flexible in nature but it was intended that way. With this definition ABC can determine case by case whether or not the food service provided by a business or licensee is legitimately offering meals in a bon a fide manner. While reviewing a case, ABC looks at the various menu offerings and availability during typical meal hours. In additions the food offered must be served in a reasonable quantity and must be what a reasonable person might consider to be a meal consumed at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Please note that an establishment does not need to have multiple courses such as appetizers, entrees, and desserts. There are restaurants that offer multiple-course dining experience with smaller portions that all round with the variety of food portions all complete what a reasonable quantity to be considered a meal.

Sandwiches and salads fall in a very grey area with ABC. The department does recognize that sandwiches and salads can be served in a reasonable amount to be considered an actual meal. Like mentioned before, ABC takes it case by case to determine if the quantity and nature would be substantial and constitute as a legitimate meal. The Business and Professions Code also states that the establishment must have suitable kitchen facilities that is in compliance with all regulations of their local health department. We believe this is where pre-packaged foods do not qualify as a meal in ABC terms because the meal needs to prepared on site in order for it to qualify as a meal.

The ABC presumes that the following does not meet the meal requirement:
• Snacks such as pretzels, nuts, popcorn, pickles, and chips
• Food ordinarily served as appetizers or first courses 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
• Desserts


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