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Pease in a Pod is a new chain of fast food type vegetarian restaurants operating in Virginia and North Carolina, serving a standardized menu of vegetable dishes for take-out as well as eat-in customers. Pease does not have a full wait-staff. Customers order their food and pick it up at the counter. However, once the customers are seated, Pease employees walk around refilling drinks and asking, “How is everything?” The chain promotes itself as healthy, upscale, inexpensive dining. As part of its regular menu, Pease is planning to serve beer from selected microbreweries, and a few types of Virginia wines, only by the glass. Pease has had some bad news lately. First, Pease received a notice from the Alcohol Beverage Commission in Virginia, that it was prohibited from serving any alcoholic beverages.

Regulation of Fast-Food Eating Establishments.

Section 1: Fast Food restaurant is defined as a restaurant serving a standardized menu, for take-out, or drive-through service, and may have tables for eating in the restaurant, but does not have table service. Section 2. Fast Food restaurants may not serve alcoholic beverages.

The CEO of Pease believes that serving wine and beer are essential to the restaurant’s appeal to the busy, successful executive type, who wants a healthy and quick meal on the way home from the gym. She believes that although the restaurant resembles traditional fast food in some ways, it is significantly different and the regulation should not be interpreted to apply to it. Moreover, she is sure that treating her restaurant differently from other, more traditional restaurants, is discriminatory and unlawful.

State whether the alcohol ban for fast food restaurants is likely to be applied to Pease. 

Expert Answers

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The answer to this will depend a great deal on other precedents that have been set as to the definition of a fast food restaurant.  It will also depend on how good the lawyer for Pease in a Pod is.  This is because the facts, as stated in your question, are not clear enough for us to know whether the alcohol ban will be applied in this case.

The question at issue here is whether Pease in a Pod is a fast food restaurant.  In some ways, it clearly fits the definition because it has a standardized menu and people can get food to go.  The issue arises because the definition of “table service” is not clear.  Pease in a Pod does not have table service in the sense of having wait staff coming out and bringing food to patrons who have ordered at their tables.  However, it does have workers who circulate and refill drinks.  It would be possible to construe this as “table service.” If that is table service, then the alcohol ban will not stand.

The problem is that we cannot tell what the definition of table service is.  There are probably cases that have been brought in the past that have shed more light on the details of this issue.  The outcome of this case would rest on such precedents to a great degree. If there is no clear-cut case in the precedents, then the outcome will depend largely on the skill of Pease in a Pod’s lawyers.  If they can convince an adjudicator that personnel walking around, asking how things are and filling drinks constitutes table service, then the alcohol ban will not apply.

In short, there is simply no way to know for sure. The wording of the rule, as set down in this question, is not clear enough to tell us if the alcohol ban will apply to Pease.

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