States Loosen Laws to Support Breweries, Restaurants and Bars Struggling in Wake of On-Premise Shutdowns

As states enforce bans on on-premise consumption at breweries, bars and restaurants to stop the spread of the COVID-19 global pandemic, some are also loosening restrictions on takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages.

States that have temporarily changed laws regarding takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Texas and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C. This list is fluid and non-exhaustive, as regulations and recommendations change daily.

“Today I issued an emergency order allowing for patrons to also order beer and wine from their favorite restaurants when ordering pickup or delivery,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu wrote on Facebook Wednesday.‬ “‪We appreciate the sacrifices many have made throughout COVID-19 developments.”

The temporary permission to sell beer and wine to go helps restaurants sell products they’ve already stocked and improve their margins during a time when the dining industry is suffering catastrophic losses.

Scott Elliott, senior vice president of market research firm Nielsen CGA,said average dollar sales at on-premise accounts were down $28,000 and transactions declined 24% during the two-week period ending March 7, compared to the same period last year.

“Even before bars and restaurants were restricted to off-premise only, 47% of consumers were planning to go out less frequently in the subsequent two weeks,” he said.

According to a survey conducted by Nielsen CGA, 40% of respondents said they “would continue to visit and enjoy the on-premise as usual, without mandated restrictions.”

“With these restrictions increasingly widespread, the situation will continue to get worse before it gets better,” Elliott said.

Point-of-sale software provider Arryved surveyed its clients and found that more than 75% of respondents are offering curbside sales, while 60% are taking phone orders. Meanwhile, 13.8% of respondents said they had closed entirely.

“Good food and good beverages are necessary to get by, especially right now, and our community is showing as much by offering their products to-go,” Arryved said.

In many states, craft breweries, now limited to takeout sales, have turned to innovative methods to sell beer while minimizing in-person gatherings and contact. Katy, Texas-based No Label Brewing has set up a drive-thru to sell cans, crowlers and merchandise, as many brewers have.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild wrote on Facebook that it has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to continue allowing the practice. Brewers in the state only gained the ability to sell beer-to-go from their taprooms last fall.

“Additional measures the Texas Craft Brewers Guild has proposed include temporary state excise tax suspension, an excise tax credit for dumped inventory, and, crucially, allowing the continuation of takeaway, curbside, and drive-thru to-go sales while temporarily allowing breweries to make home deliveries and engage in direct-to-consumer shipping,” the guild wrote. “If enacted, these temporary sales avenues could ensure the on-going employment of many brewery employees that would otherwise have no jobs to do in a time of extreme economic duress and would enable Texans to support an at-risk part of their local economies while limiting person-to-person contact.”

Charles Vallhonrat, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild’s executive director, said the guild has waived all membership dues for the next two months and refunded members’ payments for the shared trucking service that the guild had arranged to deliver entries to the World Beer Cup at the now-canceled Craft Brewers Conference.

The leaders of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, Arizona Vignerons Alliance and Arizona Wine Growers Association wrote to Gov. Douglas A. Ducey to ask for a temporary allowance for on-premise license holders to sell beer and wine to go and to confirm that the current law allows for breweries to make deliveries.

In Pennsylvania, brewery licenses already include the ability to make deliveries, Brewers of Pennsylvania general counsel Ted Zeller said.

“You can take an employee’s car and as long as you’ve got two-inch high letters with the name of the brewery, the license number of the brewery and its address and place it on each side of the vehicle, a consumer can go to your website and pay for beer or they can call with a credit card to the brewery, and they can take a phone in order,” he said. “As long as that transaction occurs on the Pennsylvania brewery’s premises, the brewer is allowed to deliver the beer directly to the consumer.”

Zeller estimated that the Keystone State has “the most liberal laws in the United States.”

In neighboring Maryland, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced yesterday the state would lift the one-case limit placed on to-go sales from the state’s breweries.

“Like restaurants, our state’s flourishing breweries and distilleries greatly depend on customers visiting their taprooms and tasting rooms to make ends meet,” Franchot said in a press release. “Given the necessary shutdown of these establishments, we’re lifting these arbitrary limits to generate more dollars so they can persevere during these tough times.”

After Florida Gov. Ron DeSanits ordered that any business that derives more than 50% of its income through alcohol be shut down on Tuesday, Department of Business and Professional Regulation secretary Halsey Beshears published an FAQ document to clarify that breweries can sell packaged product to go.

However, Florida brewers cannot deliver products to consumers, Florida Brewers Guild executive director Sean Nordquist said.

Some states, however, are doubling down on the laws in place and reminding license holders that curbside pickup and delivery are not permitted, such as South Carolina, where on-premise licenses have always permitted bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine to go.

“The consumer must walk into the business or go to the business’ service window,” Tim Smith of the South Carolina Department of Revenue’s Public Information Office said. “License holders are NOT permitted to deliver beer and wine to consumers at their cars, what is called curbside, or to deliver beer and wine to a consumer at their residence, or allow drive-thru sales.”

Six states still have yet to order bans of on-premise dining or large gatherings, according to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: Idaho, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wyoming.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is now allowing returns of alcoholic beverages ordered for now-canceled events.

“Given the unexpected and widespread nature of the concerns involving COVID-19, TTB will not consider returns of alcohol beverage products purchased to sell during such cancelled events to violate Federal consignment sales rules provided the products were not initially purchased or sold with the privilege of return,” the agency’s newsletter said last week.

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