Georgia Senate supports letting restaurants sell to-go cocktails

The Georgia Senate backed legislation Friday 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 supported the bill 36-10.

Karen Bremer, president of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said earlier this week that 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.

Bremer said cocktails offer the highest profit margins for restaurants that sell them.

Brass asked colleagues Friday to give the restaurant industry a hand.

“All we are simply trying to do is give them one more tool to bounce back,” he said. “That tool is going to be in the form of a Screwdriver, and that Screwdriver is to go.”

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.

Mike Griffin, a longtime lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told a Senate committee this week that 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.”