Bars and restaurants are waiting with increasing impatience for the Massachusetts Legislature to deliver an emergency measure to help them survive an unprecedented crisis. Their ask? Struggling restaurant owners simply want permission to sell drinks to go.
For about a month now, a bill that would allow establishments with a liquor license to temporarily sell mixed alcoholic drinks with takeout and delivery food orders has been languishing in the Senate Ways and Means committee. The bill passed the House unanimously, but it’s opposed by package stores.
“We’re not trying to do something revolutionary here,” said Jackson Cannon, bar director for Eastern Standard and The Hawthorne. Cannon has been pushing for this legislation and wrote the relevant section on to-go mixed drinks. “Why should we have to fight like this is a huge change to the status quo? This is minor. But it could be the difference for small to midsize restaurants.”
Cannon has been forced into the role of activism on behalf of an embattled industry that is fighting hard to survive, and launched a social media effort to drum up support for the bill. There’s an online petition as well. The cocktails-to-go measure was supposed to be part of the original restaurant relief bill that was enacted in early April, which, among other things, allowed businesses with liquor licenses to sell beer and wine with takeout or delivery food orders.
Cocktails are a somewhat higher-margin item in an industry famous for its razor-thin profit margins. Cannon said the policy would lead to an increase of 10 to 15 percent in revenue. Sure, it’s not a lot, but at the moment, every bit helps in the hospitality business. In addition to outdoor dining, restaurants are now allowed to offer indoor dining service with restrictions, but many restaurateurs are opting not to, due to health concerns for their staff and clientele. “Many still don’t want to do too much inside, so we should be focusing on doing more ‘to-go’” initiatives, Cannon said.
That’s what the industry is heading toward nationwide, so it’s not like Massachusetts would be an outlier. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, a liquor industry group, more than 30 states now allow restaurants or bars to sell mixed drinks, bottles of liquor, or both to go. Michigan became the latest jurisdiction to pass to-go cocktail legislation, last week, and Iowa was the first to do it permanently, as most states have enacted temporary measures as a way to boost struggling hospitality establishments during the pandemic. Because of its sudden ubiquity, there is even industry guidance on how best to do to-go cocktails.
Last week, Senate President Karen Spilka told State House News Service that the bill “is actively being looked at.” The measure allows the sale of takeout drinks in sealed containers of up to 64 ounces with a food order and would expire in February of next year. Spilka said Senators are “pulling together information and possibly other areas that we may want to add to it, but that is clearly on our radar and we are working on it.” The bill includes more complicated measures, such as capping third-party food delivery service fees.
Still, that’s no excuse for the delay. Senators should pull out the relevant section of the bill dealing with takeout drinks and approve it by itself. To-go cocktails will bring a little buzz to a struggling industry that needs all the help it can get.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.