Consumers Want to Keep Booze-to-Go

But vocal opponents want to limit access to alcohol.

April 13, 2021

Budweiser Beer Bottles

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult, but one thing is easy: getting alcohol without ever leaving the house, reports Business Insider.

These alcohol-to-go measures put in place by governors in more than 30 states were meant to be temporary moves to help restaurants stay afloat during the pandemic, but businesses and their clientele love the convenient new measures. And they don't want to return to pre-pandemic restrictions.

Public health groups are sounding the alarm as restaurant and alcohol trade associations push to make booze-to-go a permanent feature of American life. Organizations such as the American Public Health Association and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance want to limit access to alcohol and warn that making it easily available could lead to increases in underage drinking, addiction, drunken driving, injuries, violence and chronic health problems. They contend that under the new delivery options there's no fool-proof way to ensure that minors aren’t ordering and receiving the alcohol.

Ohio, Iowa, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have already made to-go beverages permanent. Other states, including Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma and Texas, are set to be next. 

"It is extremely popular," said Texas Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican who introduced a bill to permanently allow alcohol pickup with food from restaurants. "We implemented it in order to try to help restaurants out, and what we found is over 80% of the population loved it, took advantage of it, and it just seemed to go very well." 

The outside push to permanently change the laws is coming from the National Restaurant Association and the Distilled Spirits Council, a D.C.-based trade group representing the liquor industry. Mike Whatley, vice president for state affairs and grassroots advocacy, National Restaurant Association, said the organization hopes 40 states will jump on board with permanent alcohol allowances for restaurants by the end of the year. 

"It has been huge and an important lifeline for the industry," Whatley said. The association estimated that alcohol accounted for about 10% of to-go sales and allowed businesses to bring back one or two workers on average who would have otherwise remained jobless. 

Drizly, an online company that arranges alcohol deliveries from local liquor stores, said its business grew 350% in 2020 compared to 2019. "We had increased demand immediately as the pandemic set in," said Jaci Flug, general counsel and senior vice president for Drizly. She said the app's customer base increased 136% during the second quarter of 2020.

Alcohol was being delivered to consumers even before the pandemic. As NACS Daily reported in 2018, Pizza Hut was testing a beer delivery program in Arizona as early 2017, and Domino’s Pizza was delivering beer to “hot spots,” such as U.S. beaches and parks with no traditional address.

Read how convenience retailers are capitalizing on the shift to home alcohol delivery in “Cheers to Home Delivery” in the March issue of NACS Magazine.

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