Restaurant & Bar Industry Laments The End Of “Extraordinarily Popular” To-Go Alcohol

Say farewell to the takeout cups of wine and the pouches of cocktails: with Governor Andrew Cuomo ending New York’s state of emergency disaster last night, he also has ended the pandemic policy allowing to-go drinks and delivery of alcohol on short notice to restaurateurs and bar owners. New York restaurant and hospitality representatives mourned the end of the policy on Thursday, saying it had provided a much-needed financial boost for the struggling industry.

Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York’s state of emergency disaster was over as COVID-19 rates have plummeted in the region and vaccination rates have exceeded 70% of adults having received at least one shot.

A proposal to make the alcohol to-go policy permanent in New York failed to pass the state legislature earlier this month.

“It has provided a critically important line of revenue to our local restaurants, and it’s extraordinarily popular with the public. So it’s a shame that the legislature didn’t continue it,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, in an interview Thursday. “And it’s really disappointing that it is stopping without any preparation for restaurants.”

The state Liquor Authority posted a notice on their Twitter account Wednesday saying: ”Licensees please be advised that with the ending of our state of emergency and the return to pre-pandemic guidelines, the temporary pandemic-related privileges for to-go and delivery of alcoholic beverages will end after June 24.” As recently as June 6th, the SLA had announced to-go and delivery sales were extended through July 5th.

Rigie said he talked to some restaurant operators who “recently purchased a whole bunch of extra product—they purchased to-go cups, and now they have all this extra inventory.”

He also pointed out the short notice means “they’re also going to have to rush to make sure that they take down alcohol to-go off all the third-party delivery platforms that they’re on. So the sudden removal of this privilege is problematic, but just the total loss of revenue is hugely problematic. And it’s also really disappointing because this is a policy that has been so incredibly popular among the public.”

“Only in New York would elected officials ignore an overwhelming majority of the public,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive officer of the New York State Restaurant Association in a statement. She noted that a permanent codifying of the measure was supported by 78% of New Yorkers in a May survey of 700 respondents.

After the state failed to pass the proposal to make to-go sales permanent, the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association said in a June 16th statement that “the Legislature bought into the disinformation pushed by the liquor stores’ lobby claiming you’ve gotten lots of government aid and don’t need more help, that alcohol to go has led to massive drunk driving, and that alcohol to go turned restaurants into liquor stores threatening the liquor stores’ survival.”

“In reality, there is nothing about alcohol to-go that puts any liquor store at risk,” the ESRTA statement continued. “Their opposition is based on a Prohibition-era mindsight that protects them from competition – a good deal if you can get it but their protectionist view of the world is in conflict with your ability to grow your business. Allowing wine sales in grocery stores might be a threat to the liquor stores business model but alcohol to-go is not. The liquor stores’ opposition to wine in groceries is understandable – their position on alcohol to-go is absurd and based purely on greed.”

A call for comment to the executive director of Metro Package Store Association, which represents liquor retailers in the New York City and downstate regions, was not immediately returned Thursday.

One liquor store trade association representative told the Washington Post the pandemic “should not be an excuse for one tier of the three-tier alcohol industry to call for drastic changes to effective retail alcohol laws, cut out their retail partners, and meddle with an alcohol ecosystem that successfully addresses public health and safety concerns, meets consumer needs, and provides a fair and competitive marketplace,” said John Bodnovich, the executive director of the American Beverage Licensees trade association representing both bars and liquor stores.

At least 15 states have now made to-go alcohol sales permanently legal.

On Thursday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about his take on the matter, and he seemed keen to continue discussing the issue.

“It actually worked pretty well—I don’t blame anyone who thought it might be a little dicey, but it actually worked pretty well,” he said.

“I am concerned about all the restaurants and bars that we want to survive as part of the life of this city,” he added. “So I think that should be looked at, to see if there’s some way to appropriately continue it at least for the foreseeable future while we’re trying to bring back hospitality industry.”

Update: State Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, who had co-sponsored the bill to make to-go alcohol permanent, said in a statement she intends to revisit the legislation.

“Not only were the alcohol-to-go provisions highly popular, with 78% of New Yorkers in support of a permanent extension, but the ability to serve patrons ‘alcohol-to-go’ served as an important financial lifeline for primarily small, locally-owned restaurants struggling with the disproportionate impact the hospitality sector has continued to experience throughout the pandemic,” said Fahy, who represents western Albany. “I look forward to acting on this issue in the legislature with my colleagues as soon as possible. We cannot leave these industries dangling – especially now.”