September 12, 2013

"The city does not allow meals to be served to members of the public in someone’s home."

Illegal "supper clubs" in NYC.

Basically, these are dinner parties where guests pay. Something about exchanging money makes the private zone public, right? Like with prostitution.


Matthew Sablan said...

Huh. Really? Is it because they prep the food themselves? Is it because it is for profit? What if I collect money from everyone to buy pizza for movie night?

This stumps me, but I'm sure there's a reason.

Matt: The Optimist.

BDNYC said...

If attendance is truly open to the paying public, on a first-come, first-serve basis, then sure, I can see the basis for the city regulating or banning these parties.

But these are more like private clubs. There's nothing illegal about paying for food, but paying for sex, even from a spouse, is illegal. I don't think the prostitution analogy holds up.

BDNYC said...

But then again, this is New York. The local government here obsesses over the smallest everyday decisions you make, especially if it involves food. Attempting to evade the reach of the regulators is a cardinal sin.

How can people possibly be trusted to pay for food from a place that doesn't have a letter grade plastered out front???

madAsHell said...

Honestly, Officer, I didn't pay for dinner.
I paid to help clean up after the dinner!!

TML said...

Yeah, this should definitely be a huge point of focus in NYC over the next few months.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

Makes one think of the paladares in Cuba.

Of course travel to Cuba is verboten, even if it were possible to (e.g.) hop over there while vacationing in the Cayman Islands, so we wouldn't really know about that.

traditionalguy said...

Free people NEED Government.

Freedom is always bad. The Government wars against it.

Food is convenient like alcohol. It is an easy to tax distribution system if monopolies are granted to license payers.

To create a monopoly a PR campaign about bad moonshine and bad food is first to be followed by a criminal status of a "Drug Dealer" or worse, a Guitar Maker with illegal wood.

Larry J said...

I think the biggest thing the government is horrified by is that these gatherings are unregulated. Oh, the horror! What would people do without the government regulating everything? Why, those chefs would happily allow people to get sick because, well, I don't know. But unregulated! That will not do.

Forbes said...

Clandestine, unregulated dinner parties...eek! As another said, this is NYC, where gov't permission is required for every move you make.

Julie C said...

So I guess the attempts to regulate the corner lemonade stand and send little Suzy packing for lack of permits etc. are just fine then, right? Other than scale, what's the difference? Neither are collecting applicable taxes, paying for disability insurance, or submitting to health inspectors.

I seem to recall an article in my local paper about these types of eating clubs. Maybe in Berkeley. Not a peep from the authorities about the illegality, though. Sheesh. Of course, the California legislature has pretty much made obsolete the school bake sale, so you never know.

Jim Bullock said...

I'm a fan of co-ops. Legislation, regulation, and govt. agencies in the US seem to have trouble with the concept.

Isn't this "supper club" a dining coop? At what point does it become offering a service, exactly? Does everybody have to cook something, like a pot luck, or can people contribute different things.

A couple friends and I used to make a grand dinner a few times a year. We enjoyed cooking together & we'd make a couple day project out of it.

One mutual friend made us a standing offer - if we'd cook, she'd buy the ingredients. Sometimes we'd host at her place. Sometimes at mine. Sometimes someone else would host. Sometimes people brought wine.

Seems to me, if we had been in NYC, we'd all have been guilty of one crime or another.

mrs. e said...

It sure sounds like a resturaunt - and a potential public health if not regulated properly.

Almost Ali said...

Langston Hughes wrote about Harlem's "rent (or "whist") parties" in 1940. They were common and held in people's apartments, generally to cover the… rent. Good food, cheap. Plus entertainment, especially music/dancing.

I also had occasion to spend time in Harlem during the early 60's. As the odd (white) man in, we visited unlicensed establishments for lunch, where the food was really cheap.. and really good. In tiny, ad hoc joints that were hot and crowded.

Then there was the time a friend, a 6'8" bouncer, took me one late night to a place in the West Village for the "best Italian food" in NYC - in a 3rd floor apartment, with a kitchen no bigger than a closet. There were three items on the menu. I had the scampi. My friend had three. And never better since.

But here’s how Hughes described a Harlem "house-rent party":

'...and ate thereat many a fried fish and pig's foot - with liquid refreshments on the side. I met ladies' maids and truck drivers, laundry workers and shoe shine boys, seamstresses and porters. I can still hear the laughter in my ears, hear the soft slow music, and feel the floor shaking as the dancers danced."

Tom said...

What if they pay with handj-jobs? I like a girl who's handy in the kitchen!

n.n said...

The commerce clause casts a wide net for those who reject common sense in order to exploit it.

Andy Freeman said...

>It sure sounds like a resturaunt - and a potential public health if not regulated properly.

Define "properly". I ask because much regulation is improper.

More to the point, the relevant question is what are the benefits of the regulation that you're actually getting as compared to the costs that you're actually paying. If you can't manage to keep the former greater than the latter, the regulation should be abandoned, no matter how great the potential benefits.

Widmerpool said...

Per Kingsley Amis, yet another example of NKVD (Nanny knows very differently).

Lem said...

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation..."

I'm a member of the public?

heyboom said...

It sure sounds like a resturaunt - and a potential public health if not regulated properly.

How is it any more a public health issue than having friends over for dinner for free? Is the exchange of money somehow a public health issue?

southcentralpa said...

If this current crew had been in power in the 60s, they probably would've been sniffing all through the industrial districts to evict artists living in non-residential units. *rolls eyes*

Sigivald said...

BNYC said: There's nothing illegal about paying for food, but paying for sex, even from a spouse, is illegal.

Law there, as I understand it, defines a restaurant as "a place you pay to get food" (paraphrasing, obvs.). Those are places you pay to get food, and are thus legally restaurants.

Thus health codes, permits, inspections - none of which were actually involved.

(The libertarian in me absolutely agrees the State has no legitimate business in those requirements, but since your argument was one of law, not first principles, one must actually look at the law.

And as I'm not a Rothbardian anarchist, the libertarian in me also has no problem with taxation of that commerce being required.*

* It does have a problem with much of what NYC *does* with tax money, but that's a parallel matter.)

The Godfather said...

I don't think the article explained why these chefs want to avoid government inspection and regulation. Is it a cost issue, or do the regulations prevent them from fully exercising their art? Or is it just that people get a charge out of being outlaws?

If it's the latter, I do understand that, particularly in highly-regulated communities like NYC.

Sam L. said...

The Horror! The horror...

Bet they don't take credit cards!

And they serve 32-oz sodas! Oh, the Humanity!

Jim B, I'd bet on at least four crimes.

Andy Freeman said...

> don't think the article explained why these chefs want to avoid government inspection and regulation. Is it a cost issue,

I don't know about these particular folks, but many regulatory costs are roughly fixed, independent of revenue. That kills low-revenue biz.

$20k/year in regulatory costs is in the noise for a restaurant that does $5-10M/year in revenue. That same $20k is a huge deal for someone who's doing one small seating every month. (10 4 person tables at $100/person is $4k.)

BTW - this is one reason why big biz like regulation. Another is that they've got the power to shape regulation.

n.n said...

Andy Freeman:

Exactly. Regulation schemes are most injurious to small and medium-sized businesses, which is why they can be neither selective nor progressive. They must have a sound or objective basis (e.g. not speculative or democratic/consensus) and be strictly limited in their scope. Excessive regulations always favor large corporations and governments, especially the federal government which consolidates wealth and control throughout the nation.

Andy Freeman said...

> They must have a sound or objective basis (e.g. not speculative or democratic/consensus) and be strictly limited in their scope.

"must have" is a strange way to describe something that won't ever happen ("sound or objective basis").

In my previous message, I pointed out why equal costs don't have equal impact. That's not the whole story.

A friend of mine is a health inspector. She says that it takes much more work to inspect a typical low-volume restaurant than it does to inspect a high-volume restaurant and even then, the low-volume restaurant is more likely to make N patrons sick than the high-volume restaurant. Yes, same N even though the there's a huge difference in the number of patrons.

So, if health dept fees should be proportional to their costs (which seems consistent with "sound or objective"), they should charge a small restaurant 2-5x as much as they charge large ones.

There's really no right way to do regulation. The question is whether the wrong way that we do it produces more benefits than the costs that imposes. In many/most cases, I'm pretty sure that it doesn't.

Leit Bart said...

Had a dinner party last weekend and most people smuggled in a bottle of wine, real careful-like. But one fool guest brought me an orchid -- carried it in for all the world to see! Then WHAM. BAM. The SWAT team moved in and shut down our happy soirée. Took all our booze & food and hauled us to jail. Bloomberg kept yelling, "Don't you know who I am?!"

KLDAVIS said...

So, set up a camera and call it food porn.

Tibore said...

Well, even in the city that epitomizes private dining - Hong Kong - it's illegal there too. It's just that few bothered going after it.

I do think that shutting down private kitchens is sort of hyperventilating over the idea, but at the same time, there is a legitimate point about health standards. It's a bit poor of a point in practice because it's bewildering to think of how some establishments and mobile services (i.e. food trucks) meet the standards, but the point is that the public health concern is a legit one, even though it can be blown out of proportion.

I'd advise the New York government (yeah, like they'd listen, right?) to just worry about the ones who blatantly violate health code and turn a blind eye to the rest who are just foodie geeks showing love for cuisine.

SGT Ted said...

"Lack of regulation" simply means "we didn't get a cut of the action" when it comes from Big Government types.

These are groups of people that want to meet and have gourmet quality foods, sans the Governmental BS of regulations ruining the fun.