To date, nearly 20 states have allowed restaurants to resume dine-in service under social distancing and capacity guidelines. As the economy begins to reopen, states should consider making some of the pandemic-era rules permanent — chiefly alcohol policies. In April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the first to signal the state could extend orders that expand access to alcohol from restaurants indefinitely. Other jurisdictions should follow the lead of the Lone Star State.
Texas is one of several states and municipalities around the country that have temporarily relaxed restrictions which previously barred consumers from purchasing alcohol alongside restaurant delivery and pick-up orders. New York, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are among other areas that have done the same.
Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic. Nearly every state government limited service to takeout and delivery — which has severely impacted sales. It’s estimated that restaurant businesses will lose a combined $225 billion as a result. When the industry is typically responsible for employing nearly 16 million people in over one million locations across the country, the impact will be jolting — in both degree and scope. According to the latest federal data, the unemployment rate for hospitality businesses has jumped to 39 percent.
Although no policy — short of a miraculous reopening of the economy — will fully remedy the shortfall, the suspension of to-go alcohol restrictions has provided a modest boost. Before the public health crisis, on-premise alcohol sales were responsible for roughly one-third of restaurant revenue.
The idea has proved popular among restaurateurs. Texas-based chain Taco Cabana is offering frozen margaritas and daiquiris. Chicago-based Ramen-San is selling sake bomb kits — which include mugs, shot glasses, chopsticks, beer and sake. Others are making a variety of beers and discounted wine available.
According to Nielsen polling, 9 percent of Americans who currently utilize restaurant to-go options include alcohol with their orders. That number doubles when focusing on consumers between the ages of 21 and 34. With clever marketing tactics and a growing familiarity of alcohol delivery among consumers, these sales can multiply. Alternative alcohol delivery platforms exploded in popularity amid the pandemic. Drizly — an alcohol-only delivery company — experienced a 1,600 percent customer growth rate in March. Sales were up more than 400 percent during the closing weeks of April.
Although alcohol abuse and underage drinking should always be a concern, quantity restrictions and I.D. checks have mitigated unwanted outcomes.
Grubhub — a restaurant delivery platform — follows the protocols of the typical bartender. Not only does the app require the delivery driver to verify the age of the consumer via a government-issued I.D., they are obligated to refuse the order if the diner is visibly intoxicated. Postmates, Uber Eats and other delivery methods follow identical protocols.
America is reopening. But as businesses and the economy return to normalcy, not everything should reset to the pre-pandemic status quo. Governments should extend to-go alcohol options for restaurants indefinitely.
Policymakers shouldn’t ask themselves why, but why not?
Jackson Shedelbower is the communications director of the American Beverage Institute.