Cocktails to Go! But Not Quite Yet
By Gina Linss, Manager, Tax & Business Services
New York State is moving to permanently legalize the sale of alcoholic cocktails as a takeout menu item. This allowance is one of several initiatives within New York Governor Hochul’s Billion Dollar Rescue Plan, which is aimed at helping small businesses throughout the state.
During the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when restaurants weren’t allowed to sell food and beverages for on premise consumption, the sale of “to-go” cocktails was permitted temporarily in New York and more than 38 other states.
Since then, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Mid-Year Update, 16 states and Washington D.C. have permanently permitted cocktails to go, with another 14 states temporarily allowing the cocktails to go. In addition to New York, other states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are discussing making the change permanent.
Although they’re a revenue generator, to-go cocktails do present some challenges for restaurants. For example, in New York, the State Liquor Authority required these drinks to be sold in closed, sealed containers. As a result, once social distancing restrictions were lifted and restaurants could again sell on-premises food and alcoholic beverages, they were left with excess, obsolete packaging supplies and equipment.
New York restaurant owner and craft brewer Scott Vaccaro of Captain Lawrence Brewery plans to sell to-go cocktails once the permanent legislation is passed. During the pandemic, when to-go cocktails were temporarily allowed, Scott says Captain Lawrence Brewery “had fun with the to-go orders,” seeing it as an opportunity to be creative with the menu and allowing bartenders to stir up cocktails of the day. As a brewery and distillery, Captain Lawrence Brewery already had the Crowler machine and other necessary packing supplies and equipment to comply with the temporary New York State Liquor Authority requirements.
The National Restaurant Association offers guidance for restaurants contemplating adding to-go cocktails to their menu. They advise restaurants to be familiar with state and local regulations and to be sure to serve responsibly. They also offer a “ServSafe Alcohol” program, which provides training on responsible alcohol service.
As New Yorkers await the permanent legalization of takeout alcohol, restauranteurs should use this time to complete the necessary training and prepare their new menu of cocktails to go.