I own a kosher restaurant and would like to keep it open on Sukkot. However, there is no place for me to put a sukka. May it operate anyway, and, if so, are there conditions I must meet?
You do not want your restaurant to be responsible for people eating improperly. While women’s eating in a sukka is optional, a male is generally forbidden to eat a meal outside the sukka. On the other hand, is it your job to play police any more than you do regarding people making berachot on the food? Actually, there is a difference between the issues. Normally, you provide your customers with kosher food, which is the most you can do. Regarding many people, you can assume they will or may make berachot as they should, and if there is someone who you are sure will not, he would act the same wherever he eats! (This is a simplified treatment; see also Minchat Shlomo I, 35). Here, though, some of the customers would likely eat in a sukka at home or another kosher eatery if yours is closed. Let us take a look at the prevalence of people who are exempt from eating in a sukka. Travelers, even for non-mitzva purposes, are exempt from sitting in the sukka during their travels (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 640:8). That may apply to many men who will visit your restaurant. There are limitations on the use of this leniency (see Igrot Moshe, OC III, 93, who is particularly strict). The most important one is that it must be that he does not have easy access to a sukka (Mishna Berura 640:40). Even if you can assume that most people do not need a sukka (which we cannot determine from here), it will not help when you recognize people as locals, who prefer your cuisine to their sukka. Anyone may eat outside a sukka when he is not having a halachically recognized set meal (Shulchan Aruch, OC 639:2). This means eating bread the size of an egg, but also applies to foods from the major grains (foods upon which one makes Mezonot, except for rice) eaten in a serious manner (ibid.). Exactly how much one has to eat of non-bread products is a matter of dispute, as is the question if other foods can be eaten in a meal-like manner outside the sukka (see Mishna Berura, ad loc.:16; Biur Halacha, ad loc.; Teshuvot V'hanhagot I,178). If you wanted to use this avenue of leniency, there is what to talk about with a reasonable amount of improvising (which we could try to help you with). If you set up a situation whereby you have reasonable menus that can be eaten out of a sukka, then you could even serve some bread with a visible note that says that those who need a sukka should have less than x amount of bread. Then you can use the rule of teli'ah, that you may assume that an object you give someone will be used properly if there is a reasonable possibility that this is the case, even if the person may be apt to use it in a forbidden manner (see Avoda Zara 15b). This idea would help regarding most scenarios of take-out. It is usually problematic to get paid for work done on Chol Hamo'ed, but it is permitted when done for ochel nefesh (to facilitate eating on the chag) (see Biur Halacha 542:1). While it might be against the spirit of the law to use a leniency for the needs of the chag in a manner that lessens the mitzva of sukka, halachically, it is still ochel nefesh. Let us summarize as follows. If you are in a place that lacks kosher eateries, it would be religiously worthwhile to use legitimate leniencies to stay open and try to arrange things so that few if any people will violate their obligation to eat in the sukka. If there are plenty of options with a sukka (in which case, the volume of customers at a kosher restaurant without a sukka would not be that great), it would be best to give yourself and your workers a deserved rest on the chag. (We also would understand if your hashgacha would not allow you to open.) However, in these difficult economic times, we do not want to rule out the possibility of working things out, as we began to outline. Rabbis of Eretz Chemda