November 10

Staying Afloat with Alcohol Sales


Restaurants across the nation reimagine alcohol sales as we all continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic

Alcohol sales are the bread and butter of running a restaurant. Responsible for upwards of 25% of a restaurant’s total revenue, it’s no surprise that state governments jumped in to help restaurants keep drinks flowing during stay-at-home orders. As a bandaid to the economic impact of the pandemic, many states temporarily loosened alcohol laws to allow restaurants to sell beer, wine and spirits with food delivery or pick-up. These amendments haven’t been a fix-all for revenue loss, but restaurants need all the opportunities they can get to make it through this coming Winter.

The shuttering of the restaurant industry had a large impact on states amending alcohol laws, but consumers have long been in favor of purchasing drinks for delivery. The National Restaurant Association claims that the trend for alcohol delivery didn’t begin with the pandemic, but has certainly been accelerated by it. In fact, according to a survey done in 2019, 56% of adults claim they would order alcohol to-go if laws allowed.

Restaurants operating in states with relaxed alcohol laws have tapped into this consumer desire. By offering premixed cocktails, DIY kits or beer and wine for takeout, restaurants extend their brand and provide patrons a ‘home version’ of their restaurant experience. While cocktail aficionados may prefer to drink from the proper glassware, closed container restrictions haven’t stopped restaurants from getting creative and resourceful when inventing cocktails to-go that are fun and generate excitement. From Dr. Fauci inspired cocktail pouches, to offering boozy floats — businesses are still pumping out Instagram-worthy cocktails that customers line up for (6ft apart of course).

In an interview with NPR’s Sarah Gonzalez, owners of TJ Oyster Bar in San Diego, California claim that when they were just offering food to-go, they were only making 20% of pre-covid sales. With laws now allowing them to sell alcohol to-go, their business is up to 60%. Others, like the owner of Dante in New York City, claim that the ability for them to sell alcohol has helped them to provide work and health insurance for the employees who need it most during the pandemic. Overall, the temporarily relaxed alcohol laws have been described as a lifesaver for independent restaurants struggling to make it to the other side of the pandemic.

In other states like Oregon, legislation has been slow to generate a lifeline of off-premises cocktail sales to restaurants and bars, and currently only allow for beer and wine. This has been a struggle for Portland’s bar and restaurant scene as it grapples with limited in-door dining capacity this coming winter.

The Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon alongside local restaurants and bars have stirred some noise with government officials to pass a bill which would allow Oregon’s restaurant industry to sell liquor to-go. The IRAO claims that without this legislation they fear that anywhere from 60-80% of restaurants in the state could close permanently — pressing the idea of how important alcohol is to a restaurant’s total revenue.

Restaurants in states like Oregon can still benefit by pivoting their bar program for a take-out business model as they await legislation over cocktail sales. Many restaurants and bars are putting together DIY cocktail kits  – sans liquor – allowing patrons to enjoy a house cocktail with the added experience of mixing it themselves. Others are offering beer or wine pairings with their rotating meal kits for two – providing customers an opportunity to try something they may not be able to find in their local grocery store.

With the recent rise of COVID-19 cases across the country, restaurants still need the support of their community and government to make it through this pandemic and quite frankly, the overall economy depends on it, too. Allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and spirits to-go could be the advantage needed for these restaurants to survive a COVID Winter as outdoor seating becomes less desirable.

If your state’s temporary alcohol laws are expiring — or don’t allow liquor to-go like in Oregon — it’s not too late to organize with your local independent restaurant associations for government advocacy. It’s time our government saw the Restaurant Industry for what it truly is: an essential player in the overall economy that is struggling to survive.  In the meantime and as we’ve already seen, restaurants will pivot in whatever way they can to keep their business afloat and the local communities’ spirit alive.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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