Unlike 31 other states states, California lacks a “cottage food” law, meaning it is illegal to sell or even give away homemade food at events open to the public. This obviously means concerts, but it extends to events like PTA meetings. In 2011, a Los Angeles Synagogue was fined by the Los Angeles department of Environmental health and threatened with closure for holding a bake sale.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (left, D-Los Angeles) hopes to legalize bake sales and lemonade stands through the introduction of the California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616. Gatto introduced it after an artisan baker was fined for selling bread to local coffee houses. I hope it passes. Catering should not be an act of civil disobedience.
The state’s regulatory burden goes much further. In addition to the public health and wholesale labeling requirements (that baked goods have to be produced in a regularly inspected commercial kitchen), bake sales have to file an Intention to Solicit Notice with audited financial statements to the Business License commission thirty days before the beginning of a bake sale. This includes (surprise!) an filing fee. They must also collect sales and use tax, file for a county business license, and pay unrelated-business income corporate income tax. Heaven forbid a reception includes beer or wine. Let’s not even start with San Francisco-only requirements…
Sale of intermission refreshments does not balance the budgets of most arts organizations, but it does provide an important service to audience members and it is a way to get volunteers involved in supporting the arts. For organizations such as the SF Symphony and Opera where catering does factor into the bottom line, there is a reason why intermission refreshment costs so much. It has nothing to do with the cost of food.