Operators get creative with loosened off-premise alcohol laws

Deals and special packages on beer, wine and cocktails for delivery offer a sales bright spot during the coronavirus crisis.
Photograph courtesy of Summer House

Restaurant operators around the country are taking advantage of loosened alcohol regulations in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, finding ways to bring in revenue with deals on wine, beer and even creative to-go cocktails.

For some, it’s a rare bright spot of revenue during a time of tremendous business losses, allowing them to reduce their alcohol inventory and have some immediate cash on hand.

Laws vary greatly by state and even by municipality. Illinois and New York were among the first states to allow for to-go sales of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Wednesday, about 27 states allowed some form of off-premise alcohol sales by restaurants and bars, largely in the form of delivery and, in some cases, curbside pickup, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. In most states, food must be included in any takeout or delivery order that includes wine or liquor, though beer and hard cider can sometimes be sold separately.

In Illinois, bartenders and restaurant operators have begun circulating a petition urging the state’s governor to allow restaurants to sell premixed cocktails to go instead of sealed cocktail kits.

Taco Cabana, for example, recently launched to-go alcohol offerings at all 146 of its company-owned units across Texas. The fast-casual chain is selling frozen lime and strawberry margaritas as well as frozen strawberry daquiris, frozen strawberry limeades with vodka, and bottled beers. The frozen drinks are served with a sealed single-portion bottle of vodka, rum or tequila, in accordance with state regulations.

A Taco Cabana spokesperson declined to provide any sales metrics for the off-premise drinks.

Independent operators are also getting creative with cocktail offerings, such as the Sake Bomb Kit available through Grubhub from Ramen-San, a Chicago restaurant owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. The kit includes two mugs, two shot glasses, two sets of chopsticks, two Sapporo beers and one oni koroshi sake.

Florida-based Datz is selling cocktail kits to make a Prickly Pear Mimosa, Moscow Mule, Bloody Mary, Old Fashioned and their signature Spaaa BlahBlahBlah drink via delivery and curbside pickup.

A number of restaurants are offering discounts on their wine and beer inventory to bring in revenue.

The two BOA Steakhouses in Southern California, for example, are selling all bottles of wine for 50% off with pickup orders. Chicago’s Bar Ramone is offering a six-pack of discounted wines, including Spanish varieties, whites and reds, for at-home tastings or cellar stocking, available via third-party delivery through DoorDash.

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