I have lost count how many times clients have asked me whether a bar, restaurant, or hotel can sell mixed drinks to a customer to go. The question has come up even more frequently in the last couple of years since beer distributors started selling slushies in a to-go cup, usually with a sticker covering the straw hole. The answer has always been an unequivocal “No, you cannot sell a mixed drink or any kind of liquor to go.”
That may be about to change.
New Rules for Prepared Beverages and Mixed Drinks
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in a further attempt to allow restaurants, bars, and hotels to maximize any revenue they can generate, the General Assembly has passed House Bill 327. The new bill would permit the holder of a restaurant or hotel liquor license to sell “prepared beverages and mixed drinks.” This definition would include spirits and mixers no less than 4 ounces and no more than 64 ounces and does imply that some form of mixing or combining would occur on the licensed premises.
However, House Bill 327 would not allow licensees to sell premixed cocktails that are canned or bottled by the manufacturer, which are becoming increasingly popular. They must also place the mixed drink into a sealed container with a lid or cap that makes it difficult for the buyer to drink the beverage without removing the top. If the lid has a straw hole, the licensee must cover it with a seal or sticker that the buyer must remove before consuming the beverage.
During COVID-19 Only
Notably, the bill only allows these sales to occur during the COVID-19 emergency declaration and in the mitigation period following the disaster declaration. It is only for licensees who have lost more than 25% of their average monthly sales as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.
There are also additional signs that must be posted by a licensee who wishes to sell mixed drinks notifying customers that they cannot have open containers of alcohol in the area of the vehicle occupied by the driver.
The Senate is currently considering the bill, and all indications are that the Governor will sign the bill if the Senate passes it. It passed by an overwhelming margin (193-9) in the House, so there is a good chance it will be supported in the Senate. The ability to sell mixed drinks to-go will certainly offer additional, much-needed help to restaurants and hotels struggling to survive during the COVID-19 crisis.