AUSTIN, Texas — By now, you know if you go to a restaurant during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you can most likely get delivery or take-out if the restaurant is open. But if you're in the mood for a margarita or another cocktail to-go, don't expect to get just a singular glass of that drink.
On March 18, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a waiver allowing restaurants with a mixed beverage permit to deliver alcoholic beverages with food. According to a press release from the governor's office, that includes beer, wine and mixed drinks.
The waiver was in response to impacts from COVID-19 that prompted cities, and eventually the state, to close all restaurant dining rooms and bars.
On March 19, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) put out an industry notice explaining how the rules work.
Under the section "Restrictions on What May Be Picked-Up or Delivered," eligible restaurants may allow pick-up or deliver any number of beers, ales, wines and/or distilled spirits to their customers only when it's accompanied by a food order prepared at the business, alcohol is delivered in the original container sealed by the manufacturer of the beverage and all distilled spirits are delivered in a manufacturer-sealed container that is 375 milliliters or less.
“It’s not as helpful as it can be," said Kareem Hajjar, an Austin-based attorney who primarily works with bars and restaurants. "You're asking restaurants now to buy more inventory that they don’t have the money for while they also have almost all of the same costs that they would normally incur but only have 20% of their revenue.”
Hajjar is specifically talking about the rule that distilled spirits delivered or sold to-go can't be larger than 375 milliliters and have to be in the manufacturer-sealed container.
“What’s happened now is you now have restaurants who are stuck with inventory on their shelves, who have tens of thousands of dollars of inventory on their shelf of half-drunk bottles of liquor, and you have walk-in coolers with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of kegs across Texas where that now is stuck you can’t sell it," Hajjar said. “We will lose our restaurants if we cannot give them relief in the next month.”
Hajjar recently started a Facebook group to rally restaurants together to advocate for a change in the rules.
“During this crisis, restaurants need to have the ability to reduce their inventory and increase their sales. And the easiest and best way to do that would be to have mixed beverages beer and wine available to go without being in a manufactured sealed container," Hajjar said. "That would allow someone to buy a glass of wine, a glass of beer or a mixed drink to go in a retailers' sealed container.”
Chris Porter, a spokesperson for TABC, told KVUE on Friday via email that they've been in regular contact with the governor's office, and that new information will be added to the website as soon as it's made available.
"TABC personnel are working to educate and inform industry members affected by the waiver. At this time, we’re not issuing citations for violations, we’re just informing the permittees what the waiver allows," Porter said.
Hajjar said he was concerned for the businesses posting on social media about selling individual alcoholic drinks.
Porter told KVUE Monday in part, "We are not trolling social media accounts looking to bust businesses ... TABC’s coronavirus information page is regularly updated with the latest information concerning waivers affecting the alcoholic beverage industry. Any future changes will be reflected on the site, and the agency will work around the clock to answer industry members’ questions about the waivers and their requirements."
At Hops and Thyme in Lakeway, owner Trent Chastain closed his doors temporarily like so many businesses across the country.
“We were about to hit our stride," said Chastain, who is now planning out a way to make delivery or curbside services work since a neighboring business donated supplies to Hops and Thyme.
"We’re not really geared for that. We are thinking about doing a curbside takeout but we just don’t know yet," Chastain said.
He also said he would like to see the rules expanded since he said he can't do anything right now with the 36 craft beers he has on tap.
“My hopes are that we can start selling craft beer and growlers and we can sell mixed drinks and then – with our food and bring a little bit back of our menu with 10 or 12 items and then – just try and bring some income in," Chastain said. “Restaurants are failing daily and anything we can do to solve that or help that would be tremendous."
Curt Webber with Last Stand Brewing is also hoping for change.
"To help Texas small breweries and their employees whether this economic crisis and allow Texans to continue getting local beer while limiting person-to-person contact, we’re asking for some temporary changes, including allowing breweries to deliver and ship beer directly to Texans," Webber said via email on Monday.
A petition was also started specifically for breweries.
Wes Burch, the owner of The Mill Bar and Grill told KVUE Monday in a statement in part, "Allow us to sell mixed drinks in a taped, to-go cup with a lid. We are sitting on thousands of dollars of inventory that we cannot use." Burch continued, "It makes it even more difficult to have to spend money on liquor when we already have it. We do not have additional funds to spend on those small bottles."
Burch is also asking for more clarification on the rules.
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