Cocktails To-Go Back on the Menu

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 35 states began allowing restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go, offering a lifeline to the hospitality industry ravaged by closures and decreased foot traffic.

Since then, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to make cocktails to-go a permanent feature. Another 13 states have enacted laws that allow cocktails to-go on a temporary basis, as well as extend their sale for various periods of time.

The states that have made cocktails to-go permanent are Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Temporary authorizations can be found in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Most of these provisions will expire in 2023; however, some like California, will last through 2026.

The New York Legislature recently reestablished the ability of restaurants and bars in the state to serve cocktails to-go, a provision that expired under the state of emergency order on June 24, 2021. Lawmakers included the “Alcohol To-Go” program in the state budget that was signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul on April 9, effective immediately. The budget allows on-premise retailers to sell and deliver, including via third-party delivery, cocktails to-go with a food purchase for three years, reported the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Additionally, Virginia Democratic Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 426 and SB 254 on April 4, extending cocktails to-go until July 2024, before the provisions were set to expire this July.

This legislation is coinciding with the boom of ready-to-drink cocktails, or RTDs. According to The National Law Review, RTDs are not a clearly defined category under existing alcohol law, complicating the regulatory landscape of the category. States dashing to legislate this domain and catch up with the rapidly evolving alcohol industry will have to navigate issues of licensing, franchise law, distribution, excise tax and labeling if cocktails to-go and RTDs are here to stay.