Follow the leader. Remember that childhood game? Essentially it became the ingrained roadmap for our cities when they looked about for solutions to assist shuttered, and struggling, bars at the beginning of the pandemic.
Governor Cuomo of New York was the trendsetter, and William Crowley of the Public Affairs Office of the NY State Liquor Authority explains how and why New York’s governor was the first to institute a temporary to-go drinks policy, “While the temporary closing of bars and restaurants for on-premises service was a necessary and integral part of the state’s efforts to combat the Coronavirus, this administration understood the financial hardship this meant for these businesses and their employees. Consequently, at the start of the pandemic, Governor Cuomo, under his temporary emergency executive order power, implemented a host of policies to support the restaurant and hospitality industries to help them to weather the impacts of the global pandemic. One of these policies was a temporary modification to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law to allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go, providing an economic lifeline and a critical source of revenue during the pandemic.
Quickly, more than 35 states, and the District of Columbia relaxed their own local liquor laws, thereby enabling restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to-go as temporary COVID relief measures. While cities like New Orleans which have a long-standing history of to-go cocktail culture baked into it that seems to casual visitors to be a policy that allows for free-wheeling fun, enacting this legislation far and wide beyond Louisiana meant bars were thrown a lifeline in many cases; allowing them a path to revenue and avoid closure.
Bar/restaurant owners were thrilled. MaryAnn Pisani, Chief Revenue Officer of national importer, distributor and service provider MHW, Ltd. comments, “This certainly helped with on-premise revenue and beverage alcohol volume.”
Patrons were thrilled too. In some cases, it meant a sense of normalcy. Having that handcrafted cocktail experience made by your favorite bartender, even if it was at home, was a nice treat for the 250th time you sat down at your dining table for yet another home cooked meal. And for some, like the patrons of Con Alma in Pittsburgh, it meant growing their community.
Though drinks to-go are no longer permitted in Pennsylvania, bartender Lissa Brennan of Con Alma – noted by Esquire Magazine as one of America’s best bars, looks back fondly on the time when she and her staff were still sending them out the door and she knows it helped this fledgling business that has been open for just one year. She notes the positive impact that offering cocktails had on this bar/restaurant/live music venue and its surrounding residential neighborhood which embraced the outdoor music and cocktails that came with it.
She says, “It was definitely something that people appreciated. People who ended up coming to see us/hear music/ and enjoying these drinks outside where they set up their lawn chairs across the street had nothing else to do. Here was something to do. They discovered that they like us and our jazz and our food and our drinks and it definitely introduced a lot of people to us. Now that we’re open for regular business, we’re sold out two weeks in advance.
Success stories like that are why so many operators are cheering for a continuation of cocktails to-go; they were well received. They were too in New York, another state where the executive order has lapsed and to-go drinks are cancelled, and because of it, some bars are still struggling. Jennifer Sandella, GM of Vineapple Café in Brooklyn is displeased to see the end of to-go cocktails and shares, “It was a huge boon for us. I don’t think we would have been able to keep everyone on board. Without the to-go cocktails that would have been about two to three front of house shifts per week we just couldn’t schedule.”
She continues, “Since we’ve discontinued cocktails to go, I’ve seen about a 10% drop in our revenue.”
That’s a big hit for any venue to absorb, whether it’s a newly reopened neighborhood favorite like Vineapple, or an established spot like Barbara Sibley’s La Palapa. In taking a broad look at her four locations, and the impact on her fellow bar and restaurant operators’ businesses, she thinks not extending the policy and putting it into law was a big mistake. She comments, “Cocktails to go were definitely an essential part of survival! To do it over night was wrong – people had to reinvent their business plan on the fly and now we’re stuck with hundreds if not thousands of to-go vessels in inventory. Plus, even a month after it ended, I am still having to tell customers they can’t take their booze with them. Somehow, they can’t remember they can’t take their drink. Just shows you how popular it was.”
Popularity with customers and a boon for business owners is why, as Lisa Hawkins at DISCUS notes, “Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have since made cocktails to-go permanent.” She continues, “Thirty states have passed legislation to make permanent or temporarily allow cocktails to-go measures in support of hospitality businesses, and legislation is still being considered in other states to make permanent cocktails to-go measures.”
Pisani is pleased by this as she explains, “With the successful roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination and the removal of most restrictions, many of these emergency declarations have ended, prompting state legislators to vote on whether to extend or permanently pass alcohol take-out allowances for restaurants and bars. As with most Beverage Alcohol regulations, states have handled this uniquely. In New York although there were compromises from the restaurant lobbyists to only sell a maximum of two servings of alcohol alongside meal take-out, New York ultimately did not pass to extend the executive order. Colorado, on the other hand, recently extended the cocktail to-go legislation for five years, with cocktail serving limits, when 93 percent of restaurant operators polled by the Colorado Restaurant Association disclosed that to-go cocktails supplied them with critical revenue during the pandemic and were an essential lifeline to rebuild.
Then you have the control state of Ohio, which surprised many when Governor Mike DeWine permanently passed this legislation in the fall of 2020, many months before their state-of-emergency expired. There may be reason to believe this legislation could correlate with on-premise re-opening or closure rates, respectively, and impact local employment rates. Prior to the pandemic, there were more than half a million foodservice workers in many states. However, there are other key variables to consider. New York extended outdoor dining sidewalk and street allowances for another year, which provides additional customer capacity. If alcohol sales are any indication, the future looks promising. MHW’s client sales data and Nielsen CGA data show that both on-premise and off-premise beverage alcohol sales have higher velocities than pre-pandemic. We’re hopeful that this upward trend will help local economies.”
Many local economies will be helped by the permanent, or extended, implementation of these laws. But not in New York. Not without new legislation as Crowley points out, “It is important to note that the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Law does not allow bars and restaurants (on-premises retailers) to sell wine and liquor to-go (off premises); again, this was only permitted under Governor Cuomo via his temporary emergency executive order power.
On June 24th, the Temporary Disaster Emergency in New York State ended, meaning the suspensions and modifications of law, and all directives contained in the Executive Orders relating to the State’s Disaster Emergency, including “To-Go” cocktails, also ended.
With the Temporary Disaster Emergency ended, in order to allow cocktails to go to continue, the ABC law would have to be amended. With the recognition that the COVID-19 emergency would come to an end, the New York State Legislature chose not to extend this privilege. Bills that were introduced in 2020 and 2021 to change the law and allow to go sales were never moved from committee. E.g., 2019-20 session (S.8392/A.10550) and (S.8565/A.10534-A) and in the recent 2020-21 session (S.589-A/A.7732) and (A.3116).
While she’s pleased to see many states adopting hospitality industry business-friendly regulations, regarding New York, Hawkins concludes that she’d now like to see the lead state following the followers and concludes, “It is extremely unfortunate what happened in New York because we all should be working together to get these businesses back on their feet. Legislators should be working to make this path easier, not more challenging for them.”
While it may be east coast cherry season now, the rest of the year we can’t always count on those plump, sweet juicy treats being so perfect, which is why we were thrilled to discover Hotel STARLINO Maraschino Cherries for our cocktail (and baking) recipes. Found near Naples, Italy these delectable Maraschino cherries are matured for two weeks in their natural, sweet and savory Marasca juice and then rested for up to a month to achiever peak flavor. The smart packaging with a bellman’s cap and other iconography inspired by the great luxury hotels of Italy celebrates Italy’s turn of the twentieth century design and architecture in a style known as the Stile Liberty. So, it’s a win-win – sexy looking cherries to garnish your drinks, and your bar! You can find them nationwide on. You can find them at Amazon where they are MSRP $14.99 for a 14.1 oz jar, or contact Biggar & Leith for trade pricing.