Virginia Passes Legislation to Extend Cocktails To-Go Until 2024 | Citizens Against Government Waste

Virginia Passes Legislation to Extend Cocktails To-Go Until 2024

The WasteWatcher

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, especially in the food and beverage industry, were hit hard with laws requiring closures or limited capacity restrictions.  Many restaurants, bars, and wineries survived merely on to-go orders.  As of December 2021, 17 percent of all restaurants nationally 110,000 closed their doors permanently or for the long term, according to Pew Research.

During these unprecedented times, 35 states, including Virginia, suspended laws or regulations that prohibited the sale of cocktails to-go, which allowed businesses to sell alcoholic beverages for carryout and delivery.  This provided an alternative stream of revenue and helped restaurants that were struggling to make ends meet.  The added revenue stream represents an average of 10 percent of restaurants’ off- premise sales.

Local businesses that took advantage of these sales during the pandemic know that it works and has become quite popular.  “At first, we were apprehensive about the logistics, but then we realized this was the new reality and opted to do it,” said Sarah White, the chief operating officer of YHR Holdings, which operates the Cowboy Café and three Lost Dog Cafés in Northern Virginia.  “It’s not a huge chunk of sales, but it’s something, and right now, something counts.”

Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation making cocktails to-go permanent, and 12 others have passed legislation to extend the sales temporarily.  On April 4, 2022, Virginia took a step in that direction when Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R)signed into law HB426 and SB254.  These identical bills extend prior legislation that allowed the sale of mixed beverages for off-premises consumption, better known as cocktails to-go.  The provisions in the legislation extend the sale of cocktails to-go until July 1, 2024, which before this passage was set to expire in July 2022.  Passage of this bill will help to keep restaurant doors open and improve the local economy.

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Senior Vice President and Head of State Public Policy David Wojnar said, “With the extension of cocktails to-go, Virginia hospitality businesses will continue to have a vital economic lifeline during the pandemic.  Virginia restaurants, bars, and distilleries have been some of the hardest hit during COVID-19, and cocktails to-go have allowed many of them to survive."

Now that vaccines are readily available, and hospitalizations and deaths have not been increasing under the newest COVID-19 variant, many COVID-19 regulations and restrictions that stifled business have been lifted.  But many businesses have not yet fully recovered.  And there is always the threat that mandates will be reimposed, like Philadelphia’s renewed mask mandate, making it necessary that alcohol for delivery or pickup should continue to be allowed.

COVID-19 is also an endemic disease, which means some people will always be more vulnerable than others.  As Chris Ryan, manager of the Wood and Iron Gameday Bar in the historic Scotts Addition neighborhood of Richmond said, “Some people might still be immunocompromised... they might not be able to come into the restaurant all the time, and they still want to enjoy our food and drinks, and now they can do so in the comfort of their own home.”   These laws have also helped get employees back to work and provide more opportunities for individuals that were not previously available.  States should continue to allow the sale of alcohol for carryout and delivery and those that have not done so should make them permanent.