Are Alcohol Delivery Laws Becoming Permanent?
Before COVID-19 changed everything, few states allowed on-demand home delivery of alcohol. Where delivery (and not just shipment) was allowed, it benefitted businesses like liquor stores, not restaurants or bars.
All of that got turned on its head within a matter of weeks across the nation. Most states now allow restaurants and bars to offer drinks for pickup or delivery, much to the relief of scared business owners and cooped up civilians alike.
These orders are currently temporary, but they're rapidly being accepted by consumers as the new normal. What are the chances that these laws become permanent?
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Why Did States Loosen Alcohol Delivery Laws?
Restaurants have been especially crippled by public health measures to control coronavirus. It's no wonder – they're the perfect storm of transmission risk: strangers gathered in confined spaces for extended periods without masks.
Many were already hurting due to a cultural shift towards delivery services. The restaurant industry is notorious for having razor-thin margins, and higher-margin items tend not to be delivery favorites. That includes appetizers, desserts, and crucially, alcohol.
Alcohol sales are a huge revenue generator due to the markup. Nationally, alcohol accounts for around a quarter of restaurant revenue, and many businesses can't stay afloat without it.
In order to help restaurants and bars survive shutdowns, many jurisdictions decided to grant temporary exceptions to on-premises liquor licenses.
What Do Emergency Alcohol Delivery Rules Allow?
The rules vary widely by jurisdiction. Many of emergency provisions apply at the state level, but city- or county-level rules exist as well. For example, most restaurants and bars in Georgia are out of luck, while Atlanta has enacted a liberal to-go policy for alcohol that includes mixed drinks.
Most states have at least some jurisdictions that allow restaurants and bars to temporarily sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. The notable exception is Utah, where alcohol laws haven't budged an inch.
Generally speaking, the most common requirements are:
- Alcohol can only be sold by restaurants as part of a food order
- Drink containers must be sealed for transit
- Delivery personnel needs to ensure the customer is over 21
The exact rules vary.
In states like Alabama and Indiana, alcohol is pickup only, but most states also allow delivery. States like Alaska and Montana restrict delivery of alcohol to restaurant staff, while others like Virginia allow delivery through third-party apps.
Jurisdictions are more permissive with beer and wine. The policies for liquor and cocktails vary the most.
Arizona, California, Florida, and others allow licensees to deliver cocktails whole, as long as they seal the container before it leaves the premises. Other states like Connecticut and New Jersey permit liquor delivery, but only in manufacturer-sealed containers.
Unsurprisingly, states with the restrictive liquor laws like South Carolina aren't allowing restaurants to offer liquor or cocktails at all. Others allow liquor and/or cocktails to go, but only wine and beer for delivery.
And obviously, if you live in a dry county, delivery is a distant dream.
Which States Might Keep On-Demand Alcohol Delivery After COVID?
So far, Iowa is the first and only state to permanently institute a cocktail delivery law for restaurants.
A few others have already extended alcohol delivery to help restaurants recover from COVID-19.
New Jersey decided to keep its new rules for six months "after the pandemic ends." Illinois will keep to-go alcohol in place for an extra year. Colorado has extended orders through 2022, and in Michigan, they've extended the rules through 2025.
Jurisdictions like Ohio and the District of Columbia have similar legislation in the process of being reviewed. Politicians in New York, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma have expressed interest.
What Are the Obstacles to Permanent Alcohol Delivery?
The laws that regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol vary wildly by state, county, and city. They tend to be complex and resistant to change. Lobbying efforts would need to take place in many different jurisdictions to effect nationwide change.
That's unlikely. Alcohol to-go and delivery policies will probably become as patchwork as all other liquor laws.
In addition, policy experts warn that even if alcohol delivery becomes legal "permanently," it may face backlash and reversal, later on.
It's harder to control access to alcohol in home-delivery situations. Already, the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control says that delivery workers are failing to confirm recipients are over 21, as required by law. Due to complaints about deliveries to minors, they're now using decoy operations. They're advising licensees that they'll be held responsible for the behavior of delivery personnel, even if the delivery is handled through a third-party service.
That's a nightmare some businesses won't want to face, once they can survive without off-premises sales. There's also a question of insurance coverage for alcohol delivery-related liability.
Whether or not alcohol delivery will continue after the pandemic, it's a necessity for many food and beverage businesses right now. It's not without risks, but the best way to control your liability is to use well-trained, in-house staff. Given their role in protecting your liquor license, it may be time to refresh your employees' alcohol training, whether it's legally required or not.
Learn2Serve by 360training is a trusted online training provider, approved in many jurisdictions. It's a cost-effective and COVID-safe solution to your compliance training needs. Check out our catalog of alcohol server/seller courses for the offerings in your state.