Tampa Mayor: Restaurants acting like bars and violating COVID-19 rules will face fines, loss of liquor license

The city attorney sent a letter as a warning.

click to enlarge Tampa Mayor: Restaurants acting like bars and violating COVID-19 rules will face fines, loss of liquor license
Michael M. Sinclair

At the end of the latest edition of her afternoon Facebook Live talk show, Jane Castor issued a warning to “bad actor” restaurants violating mask and social distancing orders.

“Restaurants that are acting as bars, they're going to be sent a warning, they're going to be inspected and they will be fined. It is a misdemeanor, and you can lose your liquor license, as well,” Castor said in a response to a question from Creative Loafing Tampa regarding restaurants that are hosting concerts and DJs.

“So we're letting them be warned and also letting them know that we know who you are,” Castor added. “You may be getting that short term profit, but you're doing long term harm to our entire community.”

In her remarks, Castor said that restaurant owners should know the difference between a bar and a restaurant and that Tampa “crafted a letter through our city attorney’s office” to put restaurants on notice.

In that letter, City Attorney Gina Grimes wrote that, “It has come to the attention of the city of Tampa that several restaurants that are licensed to sell alcohol have been operating and functioning as bars, with blatant violations.”

The letter goes on to detail how business owners and operators face second-degree misdemeanors, and an up to $500 fine plus 60 days in jail, if violations are found during those inspections.

Grimes added that the city will also forward reports to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation which may drop a suspension of alcohol licenses.

The city gave Creative Loafing Tampa Bay a list of businesses that received the letter, but added that, "The fact that an establishment is on the list does not necessarily mean they are operating in violation of the Governor’s Order."

"We sent the list to all establishment for which we had contact information," Grimes added. So CL isn't publishing the list since people may not understand that businesses on the recipient list did not necessarily violate any order. CL has, however, uploaded the document to the bottom of this post. Here's what the letter said:

It has come to the attention of the City of Tampa that several restaurants that are licensed to sell alcohol have been operating and functioning as bars, with blatant violations of both state and local orders related to occupancy, social distancing, and safety measures such as the wearing of masks. It has been asserted that the rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks is due in large part to those bars and restaurants that ignored the requirements of the orders. Photos and videos posted on social media show venues operating as nightclubs; contact tracing has shown that many infected younger individuals visited these businesses; and several establishments voluntarily shut down due to outbreaks among staff and patrons. Businesses that choose to ignore state and local orders are not only worsening the impacts of COVID-19 in Tampa but may be lengthening the amount of time that businesses are required to be closed or restricted. 

Moving forward, the City of Tampa will be launching site inspections of establishments licensed to sell alcohol which are open under the provisions of this and future COVID-19 emergency orders. Business owners and operators who violate the orders related to occupancy limitations, or who are selling alcohol to patrons who are not seated at socially-distanced tables, or who are operating as nightclubs instead of restaurants, are subject to a second-degree misdemeanor charge that includes up to a $500 fine and/or up to 60 days in jail. Documentation of violations will be forwarded to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for further enforcement action, including suspension of alcohol licenses if appropriate. 

We understand that COVID-19 has placed tremendous strain on our local businesses, and put many at financial risk. The City of Tampa has worked hard for several months to educate businesses and individuals about the orders that are in place, and to encourage compliance. For example, on the first effective day of the face covering order, the City distributed over 15,000 masks to bars to hand out to their patrons, and has since given away over 400,000 masks. The City has also provided financial assistance to businesses and individuals, and disseminated information about other sources of funds. 

We all need to continue to work together to end the spread of COVID-19 in Tampa so that we can reopen all of our businesses, and ensure that we are stronger as a community moving forward. We know that this is something that most of our business owners and residents understand, and to which they are committed. We look forward to your cooperation and compliance.  

It'll be interesting to see the enforcement of the latest warning unfold. Many businesses designated as restaurants have long acted like bars or nightclubs, even before the coronavirus arrived.

However, the concern now, as the number of COVID-19 cases makes Florida global epicenter for the virus, is extended socialization, which is happening at some restaurants where DJs and live bands play (some of it adheres to social distancing best practices; in other places it does not). The spirit of relaxing of coronavirus regulations was supposed to allow for folks to enjoy and support their local restaurants in person and in the dining room—not to give them a place to do the electric slide during brunch (which happened at Ducky's on Sunday).

Last week, ER physician Dr. Jason Wilson, told the Hillsborough EPG that the known science of coronavirus “is really starting to coalesce around the idea of us being together in close proximity in a normal social type environment where there might be touching a lot of talking... intimacy, all those kinds of things I think are the things that are becoming the real way the virus spreads around.”

See the City letter below.

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A letter from the Tampa city attorney to local restaurants and bars, warning them of future enforcement of social distancing and mask orders.
Contributed by: Ray Roa, Creative Loafing Tampa
To print the document, click the "Original Document" link to open the original PDF. At this time it is not possible to print the document with annotations.

UPDATED: 07/16/20 7:25 a.m. Updated with a copy of the letter and to explain why extended socialization contributes to the spread of COVID-19.

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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