At least three states—Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma—as well as the District of Columbia, already have done that, said Jackson Shedelbower, spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group for restaurants that sell alcohol.
Lawmakers in Missouri and Florida also have filed bills for this year’s session.
While restaurants and bars have lost a huge chunk of alcohol sales during the pandemic, alcohol tax revenue for states hasn’t dropped, because home consumption has jumped, said Ulrik Boesen, a senior policy analyst for the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., conservative-leaning think tank.
“People have been drinking the same amount of alcohol, they just stopped consuming it at bars and restaurants and started consuming it at home,” he said. “From a state tax point of view, this is fine.”
Some areas are trying to help restaurants by reducing or waiving alcohol licensing fees. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear waived alcoholic beverage renewal fees for restaurants and bars for 12 months in November. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did the same, starting in 2021.
The restaurant association supports such actions. It’s unfair, Whatley said, to charge restaurants liquor license fees when they’re not allowed to have customers drink inside.
But Shedelbower said waiving alcohol licensing fees is “really just a drop in the bucket.” Providing restaurants the opportunity to sell to-go alcohol, however, offers them a “much more robust lifeline.”
Plus, mixing cocktails to-go allows them to show their creativity.
“It creates an experience at home, something normal, something fun during such a terrible time,” said White, the northern Virginia restaurant executive. “Our bartenders make the drink, we send along the garnishes and the cup with the ice in it. You put our cherry on top and the orange slice and it’s like you’re here.”
Although customers can’t order more than two cocktails per entrée and more than four per order under the state’s rules, it still helps with the bottom line, she said. “We’ll take any advantage we can get right now.”