DOVER — Finalizing a popular pandemic deal that has helped many bars and restaurants weather the financial storm, Gov. John Carney signed a bill earlier this week that permanently allows establishments to sell alcoholic beverages for takeout.
House Bill 290, sponsored by House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, removed the sunset provision from a law passed by the General Assembly last year that continued to sell l ‘alcohol. Carney had allowed restaurants and bars to sell take-out drinks in the spring of 2020 through an emergency order, as many venues were quickly pushed to take-out.
The law was due to expire at the end of March. Take-out sales are now permanent, immediately.
“While the pandemic has been extremely difficult for families and businesses across the state and country, it has also forced us to get creative at times. Restaurants and bars have been among the hardest hit industries over the past two years, and we have had to be resourceful in providing assistance,” Schwartzkopf said in a prepared statement.
“Alfresco dining and take-out cocktail options have been hugely popular and have allowed restaurants and bars to serve customers safely,” he added. “These innovations are about to expire, but even as this health crisis continues, it is clear that there is a market and a will for these practices to continue for good.”
HB 290 passed unanimously in the Senate and 38 votes in the House. One representative did not vote for the bill and two representatives were absent for roll call.
The bill Carney signed allows people to buy alcohol from takeout, curbside or drive-thru at restaurants, breweries, taverns, drinking places or other licensed businesses. a liquor license.
However, a key amendment requires the drink to be in a sealed container, with a cap or seal to prevent people driving while intoxicated. Straws or sip holes are not permitted.
Another amendment limits sales to one 750ml bottle of wine, six servings of beer or a mixed cocktail made in a restaurant or bar. Restaurants must also sell a minimum of $10 worth of food as part of the transaction.
The Delaware Liquor Control Commissioner also has the authority to temporarily suspend any license if they have reasonable grounds to believe that public safety is at risk and the licensee has violated state law. .
“We’ve learned some key lessons from the pandemic, and one of them is that on-the-go cocktails were extremely important to keeping our restaurants open,” said President and CEO Carrie Leishman. “That’s been one of the bright spots of the pandemic, and it’s been amazing to see the legislature come together to support that.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the DRA has advocated keeping restaurants open in every way possible, and on-the-go cocktails have played a small part in that effort. A survey of 90% of customers supported the permanent creation of cocktails to go, Leishman said.
“It was a tremendous lifesaver for many restaurants, especially in an industry where no one made a profit in 2020 and where we are still struggling,” she said.
Delaware restaurants lost more than $1 billion in sales in 2020, according to the Delaware Restaurant Association. Between February and April 2020, Delaware lost 66% of its jobs in food or beverage establishments, one of the highest rates in the country.
The Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association representing distillers, applauded Carney for signing the measure, echoing that it was a potentially stable source of income for many distillers struggling without in-person customers.
“To-go cocktails have provided a much-needed lifeline to struggling hospitality businesses and prevented many from closing for good,” said Jay Hibbard, senior vice president of government relations for the Distilled Spirits Council. “Now that this measure is permanent, Delaware businesses will benefit from increased stability as they continue their long road to economic recovery. We commend the Legislature and Governor for supporting local businesses and providing increased consumer convenience.
During the pandemic, more than 35 states have relaxed regulations to allow restaurants and bars to sell takeout drinks. Delaware is now the 17th state to pass legislation to make the measure permanent. However, Delaware does not allow direct shipment of alcohol to consumers.
The spirits industry supports 9,200 people and generates $724 million in economic activity in the first state, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. In 2019, Delaware’s craft beer industry generated $430 million in economic impact, according to the Brewers Association.