Georgia Senate panel backs to-go restaurant cocktails

A Georgia Senate committee backed legislation Monday that would allow restaurants to send cocktails home with takeout meals to help an industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
A Georgia Senate committee backed legislation Monday that would allow restaurants to send cocktails home with takeout meals to help an industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A Georgia Senate committee unanimously backed legislation Monday that would allow restaurants to send cocktails home with takeout meals to help an industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, would allow restaurants to sell two take-away cocktails per entree in sealed containers.

If the drinks are taken away by car, the bill says they would have to be put in a glove compartment, trunk or the back of the vehicle. Opponents said that provision would be hard to enforce.

The Senate Regulated Industry Committee supported the measure after hearing testimony from restaurant owners and an industry lobbyist detailing the devastating impact of the pandemic on eateries.

Before the vote, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, read a list of restaurants that have closed in recent months.

Karen Bremer, president of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said 3,800 restaurants in the state have closed and 100,000 employees are out of work. She said the business took a $5 billion hit in 2020 as COVID-19 kept diners from going out to eat, and restaurants that stayed open limited capacity to potentially reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

In June, lawmakers approved home delivery of beer, wine and liquor, although many stores still don’t offer the service. Some restaurants were already selling to-go alcoholic beverages, but Bremer said at the time that many local ordinances prohibited it.

Currently, more than 30 states plus the District of Columbia allow restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to go, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Georgia restaurants can already sell unopened beer or wine to go.

Bremer said cocktails offer the highest profit margins for restaurants that sell them. She said the bill “would be something that would bring back hope to some of the restaurants that are teetering right now.”

Travis Burch, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe & Fresh Market in Athens, said that without indoor dining, his business has been operating at about 60% of its capacity. On two of what are normally his strongest nights, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, he said his restaurant sold meal kits and did 25% and 20% of its regular business for those holidays, respectively.

“We know our guests would like a mixed drink to go with their takeout food,” Burch said. “It would be a great tool to increase our revenue.”

Alan LeBlanc, co-owner of White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails and Max Lager’s in downtown Atlanta, said allowing cocktails to go would promote food sales at restaurants.

“If it’s just about (buying) alcohol, they are not going to come to us,” he said. “They are going to go to the liquor store. Our food (at White Oak) is expensive; our cocktails are expensive.”

Max Lager’s has not reopened during the pandemic.

Mike Griffin, a longtime lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said loosening restrictions on alcohol sales would mean more consumption and more liquor in cars.

He said that with higher alcohol content, selling to-go cocktails would be like giving patrons a six-pack of beer with their meals.

“This is not as benign as it might appear,” Griffin said. “We’re not letting people take Coca-Colas and Pepsis out.”

He told the committee that it seems as if the alcoholic beverage industry wants to continually erode any restrictions.

“It’s like we’ll never be satisfied from the industry side unless it’s sold 24/7 and from every lemonade stand,” he said. “It’s getting that way.”

Panel favors cocktails to go

The state Senate Regulated Industry Committee on Monday backed Senate Bill 236, which would allow restaurants to sell two cocktails to go in sealed containers for each entree ordered.

Georgia restaurants can already sell unopened beer or wine to go.

More than 30 states and the District of Columbia currently allow restaurants and or bars to sell cocktails to go.

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