Don’t let us catch you eating what we don’t think is a meal.

Bar owners have had a particularly tough go of it during the pandemic, with the governor completely shutting them down following a brief reopening early this summer, but they are getting creative as the lockdown continues. According to the state board of alcoholic beverage control, bars can open if — and only if — they offer “bona fide meals” in conjunction with their wine, beer and cocktails.

If they do, they essentially function as restaurants and must follow the rules imposed on dining establishments, and as long as Monterey County remains in the most restrictive shutdown category, that means take-out and outdoor dining only.

The ABC’s standards for what constitutes bona fide meals are fairly strict. They can’t be pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, or appetizers and side dishes like fries and chicken wings.

Snacks such as bagged pretzels or popcorn aren’t meals,and neither are reheated refrigerated or frozen entrées. Just offering dessert won’t cut it, either.

“In short, the primary focus of the licensed premises should be on meal service, with the service of alcoholic beverages only as a secondary service in support of that primary focus,” according to the state.

Inspectors tasked with determining whether a bar’s food service suffices generally consider “the various menu offerings, availability during typical meal hours, and whether the food offered is served in a reasonable quantity and what a reasonable person might consider to be a meal consumed at breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

This is from Mary Schley, “Bars strive to become restaurants in the social distancing era,” Carmel Pine Cone, September 18, 2020.

Bar owners are trying to figure out ways to survive and the state government is making it harder. The issue is not whether patrons socially distance. Those rules are enforced. It’s not about whether people are allowed to eat and drink indoors. In Monterey County, where I live, they aren’t. The issue is that the California state government wants to enforce its view of what constitutes a meal. It’s almost as if the government officials don’t care about bar owners and patrons.