Food and Funny Laws: strangest gastronomical laws

Starting your own family business can be a very exciting venture, especially when it comes to the restaurant industry.  Serving food can be a really intimate and enjoyable profession but, as with many small business ventures, it can be incredibly stressful.  Not many aspiring restaurant owners think about the legal process of purchasing the property for a restaurant, getting permits and permissions to operate, establishing and maintaining the business in a legally sound and ethical manner – after all, the most exciting process is designing the dishes to be served and treating customers to a good culinary experience.  But following proper legal procedure doesn’t have to be another snag in your project’s progress:  in fact, you might stumble across lots of funny and interesting laws that have to do with owning a food-services business.

See also some of our funny lawyer jokes here.

Restaurants as the Local Watering Hole
Restaurants aren’t all about food:  in fact, it’s important to a restaurant’s business to sell drinks, both alcoholic and soft drinks.  But what about water?  State legislature in Arizona actually states, “It is unlawful to refuse a person a glass of water.”  This is because in Arizona, it can reach degrees higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and many people such as children, the elderly, and the homeless need extra water to be able to survive the outdoor heat.  A similar law exists in Denmark, where it is against the law to charge money for a glass of water unless it is served alongside something, such as ice cubes or lemon slices.

Who is Allowed to Bring What into a Bar?
It makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to bring illegal goods or weapons into an establishment that serves alcohol – it could turn into a disaster.  However, a law exists on the Indiana books that prevents one from bringing a fish into a bar in Portola, California, and what’s more, a law exists in Indiana that prevents individuals from bringing liquor into a bar for it to be sold, presumably in terms of forcing customers to order from the restaurant menu.  How would the liquor come into the bar in the first place – magically appear?

Foods for Thought:  Laws About How Food Must be Served
Ever worried about the presentation of one of your cherished dishes at your restaurant?  Some laws actually exist that tell you how you can serve food.  For example, in Utah, you’re only allowed to serve wine at a restaurant if, and only if, the customer asks for the wine at the restaurant.  Another similar law which now outdated, but silly and worth sharing nonetheless – in Wisconsin, a law existed on the books that made it illegal to serve apple pie without cheese between 1935 and 1937.  Another Wisconsin law prevents butter from being substituted with margarine unless express permission is given by the customer – otherwise, it is illegal.

This says nothing about restaurant equipment, building regulations, or location: for example, one law prevents restaurants on ships from docking in the Washington, D.C., unless the Mayor gives explicit permission.  And furthermore, if a customer has a desire to tap their feet, bob their head, or mark the meter of music that is playing in a cafe, tavern, or restaurant, they would be breaking the law as well!   If that seems like a difficult task, think of the enforcement in your restaurant of the law “it is illegal to impersonate an animal in a restaurant,” which is on the books in Korea.

Of course, when starting your business you’d probably not have any issues with the silly laws mentioned above about restaurant operations.  However, you should take these as motivation to check with the legal responsibilities you will have as a new owner and manager of a small business, and make sure that your plans for this project will not conflict with any of the specific laws that are enforced in your area.  Check with a legal advisor in order to discuss what may affect your company as you begin to grow, and to make sure that you are equipped with the permits and appreciation necessary in order to continue operation.



I'm Lilly Sheperd, an occasional guest-blogger and a full time freelance communication consultant. When not blogging, I like to travel and read a lot, especially about education and law.
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