Alcoholic Drinks To-Go: How Coronavirus Has Changed Restaurant Rules

Alcoholic Drinks To-Go: How Coronavirus Has Changed Restaurant Rules

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The United States has always been touchy about what its citizens can and can't do in terms of alcoholic drinks, even after Prohibition in the 1920s. Although Prohibition was overturned in 1933, alcohol sales and consumption have still been considerably regulated by lawmakers ever since. Just as laws were relaxed in 1933, existing laws have been temporarily changed in light of COVID-19 challenges.

What made alcohol to-go possible?

The restaurant business has suffered greatly due to coronavirus. Citywide shutdowns left many establishments reeling during an already financially unstable time across the board. Even as complete shutdowns are lifted, and restaurants are opened to the public, on-premise consumption is still discouraged by the CDC if the dining option is indoors.

The virus is spread through airborne transmissions, such as coughing and sneezing, which can be easily circulated by HVAC systems inside restaurants. This is even a concern if customers are participating in safe social distancing practices. In order to keep patrons safe, but still make money to stay open, the restaurant industry has gotten creative with the help of local governments due to a local restrictions change.

What does the policy change look like?

Normally, alcoholic beverages wouldn't be able to be sold as part of takeout or delivery, but some cities and states now have permission to include the sale of alcohol alongside a food order. Places like Illinois, New Hampshire, Maryland, California, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and even Texas are all participating in this policy change to provide restaurants and bars much-needed relief.

Who's been instrumental in these temporary changes?

The Texas Gov. Greg Abbott worked alongside the Texas Restaurant Association to create a governor's executive order that allows delivery services and curbside orders to sell cocktails and other beverages with a purchase of food. The premise of the governor's executive order is to provide financial stability in an industry where delivery orders and curbside pickup are the only option due to the pandemic. Since alcohol accounts for a large percentage of restaurants, wineries, distilleries, and bar's income, this emergency order could actually end up saving a lot of businesses.

Governor Abbott even directed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to allow manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to repurchase or sell back alcohol that's unopened in its original container in order to provide relief. Abbott was quoted saying that "these waivers will allow restaurants to provide enhanced delivery options to consumers during this temporary period of social distancing." The governors of other states, like Gov. J.B. Pritzker, share this sentiment.

What does this policy change look like when it's in effect?

Now, you get to hear about the fun part. While this policy's temporarily changed, why not take full advantage of it. Who doesn't need a drink during the pandemic? With alcohol delivery, you never even have to leave your couch to make it happen. Not to mention, it's for a good cause, because you're supporting local restaurants. You could buy all of your alcohol just from the grocery store, but you'd be missing out on some fun booze opportunities.

For example, in Chicago, you can schedule pickup from one of your favorite bar's cocktail kits. You can find cocktail kits at establishments like The Violet Hour and Club Lucky that feature their specialty drinks. The kits walk you through instructions and provide everything you need for drinks like a "Romeo and Juliet" gin cocktail or a "Quarantini." Miss your margaritas from Big Star? You can have a full restaurant experience from the comfort of your own home.

Curbside pickup has become easier and more efficient as breweries and other restaurants get more practice. At the beginning of the executive order, many restaurants weren't prepared to sell their alcohol as a takeout option. As a result, the sealed containers they used to distribute their beverages were quite creative, including Ball jars and glass soda bottles. As the pandemic continues, they've probably refined their practices, unless customers have responded well to the novelty of their drinking vessels.

The delivery of beer has always been a little more straightforward, although some restaurants and breweries are now offering growlers. Check in on your favorite establishments. You might be surprised by what they are offering.

Is there concern about underage drinking?

Tricky teens have always found a way to get their hands on alcohol if they want, and with a concern about contact, you may be wondering if teens will be able to pull a fast one and have alcohol delivered in what seems to just be a regular food order. Although delivery drivers will be social distancing, they're still required to check ID cards before handing over the booze. Licensees are still concerned about keeping their licenses; so presumably, they'll be as diligent as always in order to keep them.

What does this mean for people who are high-risk?

If you're in the high-risk category, and have been exclusively using contactless delivery, you may want to reconsider purchasing alcohol from any establishment, including grocery stores, because a delivery person will need to check your ID. Your driver should be wearing a mask and keeping distance, but it really depends on your comfort level. The interaction should only take moments, making it low risk, but gauge your own feelings before making the order.

Much like the pandemic, this relaxation of laws won't last forever. As frustrating as the pandemic is, try to find levity where you can. In other words, treat yourself. While you're treating yourself, remember to help keep your delivery person safe by also wearing a mask when you're collecting your special delivery. Consider using your own pen if you have to sign a receipt. Stay on top of the CDC's updates and do what you need to do to keep yourself and others safe. Whether you're picking up from a parking lot, curbside, or getting delivery, make sure you take advantage of the gift lawmakers have given these communities. When you're buying drinks and food, you're helping others in the restaurant industry just as much as you're helping yourself.

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