Complimentary fines not included.
May 6, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

IANAL, YANML. I work in a small hotel in San Francisco. When guests alert us to a special occasion (anniversary, getting married, birthday, etc.), we put a bottle of complimentary champagne in their room. Is it possible that we face potential fines for "serving" alcohol without a liquor license?

The champagne is on the house, chilled but unopened, if that makes any difference.
posted by slater to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might just want to call whatever state agency handles liquor licenses. Since you're not "selling" the champagne it may be in a grey area...
posted by HuronBob at 8:35 AM on May 6, 2017

Nothing in the link above suggests that what you've described is illegal; but neither does it answer the question.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2017

I am reading the regulations differently, since:
- there's no public access (to the guest room)
- it's not a retail establishment (nail salon, barber, etc).
- the alcohol is not being sold

You would probably feel better with an official answer from somebody at the ABC

Another way to do it is to do a bottle of sparking apple juice (Martinelli's) with a fancy note that they can just ring down to the front desk for a complimentary switch to real champagne.
posted by metaseeker at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

> Another way to do it is to do a bottle of sparking apple juice (Martinelli's) with a fancy note that they can just ring down to the front desk for a complimentary switch to real champagne.

Why would this make a difference? You're "serving" the champagne either way (and frankly, if it were my special occasion I would feel annoyed at having to go the extra mile to get my champagne, which detracts from the desired sense of luxurious accommodation).
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

The California ABC has this. I'd give them a call directly.

(On post post, I see this has already been suggested.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:08 PM on May 6, 2017

This story on free alcohol in salons doesn't address your question directly, but would suggest that you're probably on the right side of the law, since money isn't involved. I'd call ABC to be on the safe side.
posted by epj at 7:53 PM on May 6, 2017

Thanks for all the answers, folks! ABC will be getting a call first thing Monday morning :)
posted by slater at 8:25 PM on May 6, 2017

I'd bet big on no, it's not illegal.
Wife & I have had complimentary wine or half champagne bottles provided in our room at several California hotels (in SF and other counties), for anniversaries or birthdays. In fact yes I usually mention the anniversary at booking, and we look forward to a nice surprise like that. (Thank you if it was your hotel!)

Names withheld to protect the innocent.
posted by artdrectr at 9:06 PM on May 6, 2017

Ok, so I just got off a 10-hour bartending shift. How do you know all the recipients are over 21? We don't see a ton of under-21 couples celebrating wedding anniversaries in fancy hotels but it's not impossible.
posted by workerant at 10:56 PM on May 6, 2017

@languagehat is right that the rule, whatever it turns out to be, will apply whether or not a placeholder is used. The idea for a placeholder is really for being extra careful, in case someone happens to be a recovering alcoholic, or super-religious and easily offended, or underage as @workerant suggested.

I can't even begin to weigh in on one person's preference to have complimentary champagne without extra intervening steps, against another person's need to be able to check into a room without alcohol staring them in the face.

(The prevalence of mini-bars seems to establish a precedent. I wonder what's it's like to have to specify "no surprise presents of alcohol please, and please empty the mini-bar" at every hotel. And the one time you forget... there goes another lost weekend. On the other end of the spectrum, might we one day find complimentary joints offered with a ribbon - ring down if you prefer sativa? )

This only applies in the context of a pleasant surprise, of course. People are free to order up exact what they want, when they want, be it beverages or beans.

It's a super nice gesture though. I commend the thought that went into this. I personally would be delighted to find a bottle of champagne in a hotel room.

Really, anything you do involving the public can end up offending somebody. See under rule 43 and 44.
posted by metaseeker at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Welp, California ABC just got back to me:
Unlicensed hotels cannot give away alcoholic beverages to guests since doing so in connection with a room rental constitutes an indirect sale of the alcoholic beverage and is considered a criminal misdemeanor. If the hotel holds an alcoholic beverage license then it could include alcoholic beverages in the room rate but should not advertise the alcohol as “free,” “complimentary,” or use similar wording. Licensees are not legally permitted to furnish free alcoholic beverages to the public as this is a violation of Section 25600 of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.
posted by slater at 9:29 AM on May 22, 2017

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