Over the last few months, state legislators and their constituents have debated what elements of the pandemic world to keep and which to remove. Masks, remote work, and to-go alcohol, are a few such elements.
Before the pandemic, getting alcohol to-go was mostly banned, though there were exceptions such as in New Orleans. When the pandemic-driven lockdowns happened, most bars and restaurants were no longer able to provide in-store dining and pivoted to delivery and take-out. Because of the bans on take-out alcohol, this meant that they couldn’t sell alcohol at all. This was a problem for many food industry employers since alcoholic drinks are “generally are the highest margin items on the menu.”
But then last spring and summer governors began issuing temporary orders allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to-go. Since the onset of the pandemic, dozens of other states followed suit. As of June 1 of this year, “39 states and the District of Columbia allow the sale of to-go cocktails.”
While rules varied, there were often common themes, such as requiring the drinks be sealed in a manner such that the authorities could see if it was tampered with, and so the buyer wouldn’t consume the alcohol before reaching a place where it is safe or legal to do so. Many business owners say to-go alcohol sales have helped them weather a very tough time.
“It’s not the reason why we’re still here, but it helped a lot,” said Nicholas Mermet, co-owner of the Westport Café in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Marbet Lewis, founding partner of Spiritus Law, “Before the pandemic, I think there was a lot of concern about compliance.” However so far, the ordinances seem to have been a success.
This begs the question, what happens when the pandemic measures end?Many states answered, “Keep doing it!”
As of June 1, 15 states and Washington DC have approved measures to let restaurants and bars sell to-go alcohol permanently, 6 more states have allowed the temporary measure to last through 2022, and at least 15 states have considered extending their temporary measure.
Bar owners are very happy about this. Andrew Markert, owner of Beuchert’s Saloon in Washington, D.C. says “It’s a great way to help us survive and help us pivot into this new unknown territory about what restaurants are going to look like and what we’re going to continue moving forward.” However, liquor store owners are less excited. Robert Mellion, of the Massachusetts Package Store Association said that the altering alcohol laws “materially impact public safety,” and “directly harm brick and mortar retail.”
To-go alcohol was once a rarity that only existed in a few places. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that, in some places permanently. In many states already and perhaps more soon, the concept of ordering alcohol to-go is becoming as commonplace as ordering food to-go.