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COVID-19 Restaurant Resources

Alcohol Delivery and Pickup: Where It’s Legal and How It Can Help Restaurants

by

Katherine Pendrill

March has been a rough month for restaurants. In the wake of COVID-19, more than half of U.S. states and most Canadian provinces have imposed mandatory restaurant closures and nearly all venues have seen their revenue plumet

But in this sea of bad news, some restaurateurs are finding new hope in the recent changes to state and provincial liquor laws. Designed to soften the economic blow to restaurants and provide consumers with a sense of normalcy in uncertain times, some states and provinces are now allowing alcohol delivery and pickup.

Of course, these rules differ considerably across North America. For instance, New Hampshire is limiting alcohol delivery to just beer and wine, while pre-mixed drinks and to-go cocktails have the green light in California. In other words, it’s like the wild west when it comes to restaurants and alcohol delivery.

Though red tape may still be a bit of an issue, looser liquor laws could give restaurants a valuable income stream at a time when every dollar counts. And with simple tools like TouchBistro Online Ordering, offering alcohol delivery is easier than ever before.

To help your restaurant navigate changing liquor laws and the new world of alcohol delivery during COVID-19, we’ll cover:

The Benefits of Alcohol Delivery for Your Restaurant

Though some restaurants have successfully pivoted to takeout and delivery, there is no doubt that generating enough revenue to stay afloat is still a major concern. But with the recent changes to state liquor laws, alcohol delivery may be an opportunity for some restaurateurs to bridge the gap.

Below are some of the major benefits of alcohol delivery for restaurants during COVID-19.

A Valuable Source of Revenue

In the restaurant industry, alcohol often has the highest profit margins because of high markups, a longer shelf-life, and lower labor costs behind the bar than in the kitchen. In fact, alcohol is responsible for 20% to 30% of restaurant sales across the U.S. But with the sudden shift to delivery and takeout-only, alcohol sales have all but evaporated and restaurants have seen their revenue fall dramatically.

It goes without saying that the ability to put alcohol back on the menu will help restaurants generate some much-needed cash. Instead of letting pricey bottles sit on store shelves, restaurants can sell off these products and quickly free up cash flow. Not to mention, most states require the purchase of food with any alcohol deliveries, meaning that restaurants could see an increase in average check sizes for takeout and delivery orders.

A Way to Keep Staff on the Payroll

One of the most heart-breaking impacts of the COVID-19 dining restrictions has been the massive layoffs sweeping the industry – especially for FOH staff. Even for the restaurants still offering takeout and delivery, many are operating with just a few staff members on hand in order to keep costs to a minimum.

With alcohol delivery now an option in some states and provinces, restaurants need staff on hand to facilitate the deliveries. As a result, many restaurants have been able to keep existing staff employed or rehire their out-of-work servers to carry out alcohol deliveries. Though most restaurants won’t be able to hire back their entire staff, the ability to keep some staff on payroll can make a huge difference in the face of extreme economic uncertainty.

Food courier in a restaurant

An Opportunity to Use Up Leftover Ingredients

Nearly every restaurant has been forced to make some major menu adjustments in the wake of COVID-19. In some cases, this has meant abandoning certain dishes that aren’t selling or simply don’t travel well. Naturally, this has left a lot of restaurants with some unused inventory.

Right now, most states and provinces are only allowing alcohol delivery with food. Since restaurants need to offer food alongside drinks anyway, this serves as an opportunity to use up excess ingredients. For instance, leftover cheese can be sold along with bottles of wine, while citrus fruits can be paired with cocktail mix to create at-home mixology kits. Though it might take a bit of creativity, alcohol deliveries naturally lend themselves to food and drink pairings.

A Way to Unload Excess Alcohol Inventory

In addition to a lot of extra food in the fridge, many restaurants are also dealing with excess alcohol inventory. For some, the cancelation of events such as SXSW and St. Patrick’s Day festivities, means that they actually have more alcohol on hand (and less cash) than usual.

For restaurants sitting on massive stockpiles of beer, wine, or liquor, alcohol delivery provides a way to unload excess inventory and recoup some of their costs. Even in the cases where restaurants have more alcohol on hand than they can sell, some of the changes to state liquor laws allow them to sell back unopened alcoholic products to manufacturers and distributors.

A Travel-Friendly Takeout Option

For some restaurants, pivoting to takeout and delivery has been a rough road. For those that have never offered takeout or delivery, there are challenges involved in finding the right platform, coordinating delivery drivers, and figuring out which menu items are travel-friendly.

Though alcohol delivery certainly comes with its own challenges, beer, wine, and liquor are all travel-friendly products that lend themselves well to online ordering. Unlike food, which requires dedicated takeout containers, alcohol requires little to no additional packaging – provided you aren’t offering mixed drinks. Issues such as temperature and spoilage are also far less of a concern with alcohol than with food. For restaurants struggling to pivot away from dine-in services, the ease of alcohol delivery can make a major difference.

U.S. States and Cities Allowing Alcohol Pickup and/or Delivery

Though the dining restrictions have only been in place for a few weeks (or even days in some cases), states and municipalities have been quick to relax liquor laws in light of the economic blow to the restaurant industry. Though many restaurants see this as a positive move, the pace of change has caused some confusion around what restaurants can and cannot do in their city or state

 Below, we break down the recent changes to municipal and state liquor laws.

Note: This list is current as of April 13, 2020.

Arizona

On Friday, March 20, 2020, the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control implemented Governor Ducey’s Executive Order allowing restaurants to offer alcohol for sale with delivery and takeout orders. Under this new rule, restaurant licensees may temporarily sell alcohol through delivery, pickup, and curbside service, provided that the beverages are in sealed containers.

Restaurants may also sell mixed drinks as long as they seal the container before removing it from the licensed premises and ensure that the seal remains in place until the customer leaves.

Arkansas

On Thursday, March 19th, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control issued a temporary rule allowing restaurants and microbreweries to sell beer and wine for off-site consumption. All alcohol must be ordered with food and the new rule does not cover the sale of liquor or mixed drinks.

California

As of March 20th, all restaurants in California were permitted to sell beer, wine, and pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for pickup or delivery, provided the drinks have a secure cap or lid (i.e. no openings for straws). Alcoholic beverages must also be sold in conjunction with meals. 

Any restaurant taking advantage of the new measures is also required to post a notice – either on the premises or online – that puts consumers on notice of limitations regarding open container laws. A printable version of the required notice can be found here.

Colorado

In Colorado, restaurants are now able to deliver alcohol with food or sell it with takeout orders. For restaurants, this includes beer, wine, liquor, and mixed drinks. However, breweries or distillery pubs may not provide mixed drinks – only products manufactured on-site.

The temporary measure was passed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis and it stipulates that alcoholic beverages must be served in sealed containers. 

Connecticut

In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont signed an Executive Order allowing restaurants, bars and breweries to start delivering alcohol. The order only applies to sealed liquor and does not permit the sale of cocktails made in house.

Florida

Following the lead of other states, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he is allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol in sealed containers for off-premises consumption. Under Executive Order Number 20-71, alcohol must be ordered alongside food and anyone getting alcohol delivered will be required to show valid ID.

Idaho

In light of COVID-19, the Idaho State Police Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control has updated its rules surrounding the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption via takeout or delivery. Essentially, if you have a beer and wine license, then you are already able to sell bottles and cans of beer to-go for off-premises consumption. With additional endorsements, you may be able to sell bottles of wine, kegs of beer, and growlers of beer for off-premises consumption. Liquor may not be delivered, however it can be sold for pickup if it is in a sealed container.

Specific guidelines for the delivery of beer and wine in Idaho can be found here.

Illinois

Like New York, Illinois was quick to loosen its state liquor laws. On Monday, March 16th, the state issued an executive order that encouraged restaurants and bars to sell alcohol “through means such as in-house delivery, third-party delivery, drive-through, and curbside pick-up.” Under the order, alcoholic drinks must be unopened and sold only during liquor sale hours.

FAQs about the order can be found here.

Iowa

On Friday, March 20th, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that temporarily allows some bars and restaurants to sell liquor and wine to go, as long as it is in its original unopened container – mixed drinks are not included. The new rule applies to any Iowa business that holds a Class C liquor license.

Iowa has also announced that on-premises retailers who have been impacted by temporary closures are authorized to return liquor, wine, or beer in original, unopened containers to the appropriate wholesaler, provided they meet certain requirements.

Kentucky

On Thursday, March 19th, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced that he would allow restaurants and bars to deliver alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other states, alcohol must come in a closed and sealed original container. Alcohol must also be “incidental to the purchase of a meal,” meaning bulk orders are not permitted.

Louisiana

Louisiana has relaxed its state liquor laws to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout and curbside pickup orders. Any restaurant that wishes to offer beer or wine for delivery needs to submit an application to the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Businesses are encouraged to submit their applications online but may also submit applications by mail or directly through email to ATC-Attorneys@atc.la.gov

The new rules also note that customers must buy food along with their alcohol orders, and all beer and wine must be sold in factory-sealed containers.

Maryland

On Thursday, March 19th, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan joined other states in issuing an executive order to allow bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries and “other establishments with appropriate license” to deliver alcohol off-premises or sell alcohol for takeout if it is not consumed on the premises. This includes beer, wine, and hard alcohol in sealed containers.

The executive order explains that social distancing recommendations must still be taken into account and all other applicable legal requirements (i.e. verification of the age of recipients) still apply.

Massachusetts

On April 3rd, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a municipal relief bill that allows Massachusetts restaurants that are licensed to sell alcohol to offer beer and wine for takeout and delivery. This new rule will be in place as long as the COVID-19 state of emergency remains in effect.
However, there are a number of restrictions to keep in mind. All alcohol purchases must be accompanied by food and the new law only applies to wine and malt beverages (beer) – hard liquor is not permitted. There are also limits on quantity, with each customer limited to 192 ounces of beer and 1.5 liters of wine per order. Finally, alcohol cannot be sold past midnight and customers must be at least 21 years of age.

Nebraska

As part of his Executive Order to Provide Relief to Restaurants and Bars During COVID-19 Emergency, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that restaurants would be able to sell beer, wine, and spirits to customers placing takeout or delivery orders of food. Restaurants can also sell alcohol via drive-through or curbside orders so that customers do not have to exit their motor vehicles.

New Hampshire

Just two days after all New Hampshire restaurants and bars were ordered to close their dining areas, Governor Chris Sununu issued an emergency order allowing restaurants to sell beer and wine with take-out orders. The temporary authorization applies to any establishment that already has a restaurant license and a license for on-premise alcohol consumption. 

Unlike some states, spirits and cocktails are not included under the new order. Additionally, all alcohol deliveries must be accompanied by food and beer and wine must be transported in its original container.

New York

New York was one of the first states to allow restaurants to sell alcohol for pickup and delivery. On Monday, March 16th, the New York State Liquor Authority announced that all licensed on-premises establishments could sell alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption, as long as the alcohol is accompanied by food. This includes mixed drinks, as long as the beverage is placed in a closed container.

In addition to requiring the purchase of food with alcohol deliveries, the new rules also stipulate that deliveries are made in a vehicle permitted by the Authority (i.e. a third-party delivery service), or a vehicle owned and operated, or hired and operated by the licensee or its employee.

Other FAQs about alcohol delivery in New York can be found here.

Ohio

On April 7th, the Ohio Liquor Control Commission passed an emergency rule to allow establishments with an existing on-premises liquor permit to begin selling and delivering alcohol. This new rule includes high-proof liquor in limited quantities.

Alcohol orders must be accompanied by food, customers are limited to two prepackaged drinks per meal. These drinks cannot contain more than two ounces of spirituous liquor per container. Additionally, all drinks must remain closed during transport in accordance with the open container law.

Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has announced that it will allow restaurants to deliver alcohol. The new rules apply to restaurants, bars and clubs holding mixed beverage, beer and wine, or caterer/mixed beverage licenses. These venues will only be allowed to deliver beer and wine in its original sealed packages.

Additionally, only employees of that restaurant can make the deliveries and payment prior to delivery is restricted. This means that restaurants will not be allowed to use third-party vendors to make alcohol deliveries.

Oregon

In Oregon, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has eased regulations on how businesses can serve alcohol. Under the new rules, restaurants that sell beer and wine to-go – meaning those that currently have an Off-Premise License – can offer curbside pickup, as long as it’s within 100 feet of the establishment (previously customers needed to go inside to make the purchase). The curfew for home deliveries has also been extended from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Additionally, a streamlined application process has been created for bars and restaurants with existing Limited On-Premises Sales and Full On-Premises Sales Licenses to start selling malt beverages, wine, and cider to go. Restaurants can find the online application for this “90-Day Authority To Operate” with an Off-Premise Sales License here.

Tennessee

On Sunday, March 22nd, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 17, which authorized restaurants to deliver and offer alcohol, beer, and wine for takeout and delivery. All alcohol sales must be accompanied by food and must also be served in sealed containers with a secure lid – no to-go are cups permitted.

Texas

On Wednesday, March 18th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a waiver that temporarily allows restaurants to deliver alcohol, as long as the drinks are accompanied by food purchases. This includes beer, wine, and mixed drinks, as long as the drink is delivered in the original container that was sealed by the manufacturer.

Governor Abbott also instructed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to waive certain provisions to allow manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of alcoholic beverages to repurchase or sell back unopened products. This means that Texas restaurants unable to facilitate alcohol delivery have the option to sell excess inventory back to alcohol distributors and manufacturers.

Vermont

Just two days after limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery only, Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced that he would be waiving the usual rules surrounding alcohol delivery. This directive means that restaurants and bars are allowed to sell beer, wine, spirits and “spirit-based products” (i.e. cocktails) for takeout and delivery, as long as the alcohol is accompanied by a meal.

All alcohol must be packaged in unopened containers and deliveries must take place between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. Retailers must also keep a detailed log of the employees who deliver alcohol and information about recipients such as names, location, ID check, and the time of the delivery.

It’s important to note that the Vermont state government strongly encourages restaurants to contact an insurance agent to discuss their current Liquor Liability coverage. More information about the directive can be found here.

Virginia

In Virginia, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has adjusted its regulations to allow restaurants to sell beer or wine in sealed containers for curbside pickup or delivery, without the need for a delivery permit. Licensed businesses are permitted to use third-party delivery services to deliver beer or wine on their behalf, but must have a written contract with the vendor specifying terms.

Under the new rules, licensees with off-premise privileges, such as breweries, can also sell beer and wine for curbside pickup or delivery without special permits.

Washington

As one of the first states to experience an outbreak of COVID-19, Washington’s restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit. To provide relief, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board passed a temporary rule allowing licensed restaurants and bars to sell to-go spirits, beer and wine for takeout or delivery. The new rule applies to FSRs that carry all three types of alcohol and all drink orders must be accompanied by food.

FAQs about the temporary rule can be found here.

Washington D.C.

The D.C. Council passed an Emergency COVID-19 Response Bill that allows restaurants to add wine, beer, and spirits to takeout and delivery orders. The bill stipulates that each restaurant must first receive approval by the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration before moving ahead with alcohol delivery or pickup. Restaurants that already have a liquor license can fill out an online form, instead of filing an additional application

The bill also notes that alcohol must be packaged in sealed containers and that it must accompany at least one prepared food item, which was assembled in the restaurant (meaning a bag of chips or other pre-packaged snack doesn’t count).

Other FAQs about the bill can be found here.

West Virginia

The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration is now permitting limited home delivery of by certain licensees during the current State of Emergency. Under this new rule, restaurants may deliver beer or wine (no liquor or mixed drinks) in the sealed original container as long as the owner of the license is delivering take-away food orders. This means that restaurants cannot use unlicensed third parties to make alcohol deliveries.

Atlanta, Georgia

Though Georgia has not loosened its state liquor laws, the city of Atlanta has. Following new dining restrictions, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms officially signed an order allowing the city’s restaurants to sell beer and wine to-go for “off-premises consumption.” The order does not extend to liquor or any open containers.

Fargo, North Dakota

The state of North Dakota has not permitted the sale of alcohol for pickup and delivery, but the city of Fargo has. For 30 days, the city is allowing restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout and delivery orders. The temporary change does not include the sale of mixed drinks.

Restaurant worker packing a bottle of wine into a box

Canadian Province and Cities Allowing Alcohol Pickup and/or Delivery

Alberta

In Alberta, a Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Regulation amendment was issued allowing licensed restaurants and bars to sell alcohol as part of their takeout and delivery services. The amendment does not include mixed drinks and “liquor must be delivered in a sealed, commercial container as supplied by the liquor supplier or agency.”

In Alberta, age verification is still required and delivery persons must refuse a delivery if the recipient appears intoxicated.

British Columbia

On Sunday, March 22nd, the B.C. government temporarily changed the province’s liquor laws to allow restaurants to deliver alcohol. Customers will only be allowed to purchase alcohol if they are also purchasing a meal and other liquor laws still apply, such as age restrictions.

Additionally, the provincial government is also requiring individuals who deliver liquor products to have Serving It Right certification – a liquor-serving certification currently required for all servers in licensed establishments. The idea is that this requirement will encourage B.C. restaurants to rehire out of work servers to make alcohol deliveries.

Manitoba

In response to pressure from Manitoba restaurant owners, Premier Brian Pallister has announced that Manitoba will allow restaurants to sell alcohol for takeout and delivery orders. The new order applies to licensed establishments whose primary business is food, therefore all alcohol sales must be accompanied by orders of food. The Premier also noted that liquor pricing must be the same as in-dining service menu prices.

Nova Scotia

On Friday, March 27th, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that effective March 30th, restaurants will be allowed to sell alcohol with takeout and delivery orders. The only stipulation is that the alcohol cost cannot be more than three times the value of the food ordered.

Ontario

On Thursday, March 26, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced a temporary measure permitting licensed restaurants and bars in Ontario to sell alcohol with takeout and delivery orders. All alcohol deliveries must be accompanied by food and must take place between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Any restaurant with an active license may immediately begin offering this service – there’s no application process or fee required. Alcohol may also be sold for takeout or delivery through a third-party app (i.e. Uber Eats, Foodora, SkipTheDishes), provided they are acting on behalf of the licensee.

The order also notes that the licensee or staff involved in the delivery of alcohol must have successfully completed Smart Serve training. If alcohol delivery is being carried out by a third-party service, Smart Serve certification is required by April 25, 2020.

Quebec

Although COVID-19 has not changed Quebec’s liquor laws at this time, the Association des restaurateurs du Québec reminds restaurants that delivery of beer and wine is still possible. Under article 28 of Quebec’s liquor law, some restaurants are able to sell beer and wine with takeout. However, this law excludes all spirits and restaurants must ensure that the selling price of any wine and beer is the same as in the dining room.

Saskatchewan

A day after Alberta made a regulatory change to allow alcohol with takeout and delivery orders, Saskatchewan did the same. According to the provincial government, “Take out of alcohol or food products so permitted with two metre distancing between customers and the delivery of alcohol or food products.” 

How Restaurants Are Adapting to Looser Liquor Laws 

With alcohol delivery offering a potential beacon of relief, many restaurants are taking full advantage of the new opportunity. From takeout cocktails to Champagne on demand, here are some of the creative ways that restaurants are using alcohol delivery to keep their businesses afloat.

Creative Food and Drink Pairings

Virtually every state and province permitting alcohol pickup and delivery requires that the order be accompanied by a meal or food of some kind. As a result, many restaurants have come up with creative pairings for their food and drinks selections.

To cater to customers that are more interested in grabbing a nice bottle of wine than a full meal, New York City’s La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels has been pairing its extensive wine list with snackable charcuterie boards. This clever pairing allows the wine bar to continue selling curated four-packs and six-packs of wine, without the need to keep the kitchen churning out gourmet meals.

Similarly, Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen has nixed its $36 prix fixe meal takeout, and is now offering small snacks like Iberico ham chips with wine deliveries to keep kitchen costs to a minimum.

For other restaurants, food and drink pairing are a way to boost check sizes on takeout and delivery orders, rather than a way to keep kitchen costs down. For instance, L.A, taqueria Petty Cash is giving customers the option to add a bottle of four Petty Cash margaritas to the restaurant’s Taco Dinner meal deal, for just an extra $22.

DIY Cocktail Kits

Though not all states and provinces allow for the sale of hard liquor, some do. For restaurants in those areas, the ability to sell hard liquor has led to the sale of cocktail kits that customers can prepare at home.

For instance, Nice Guys in Cape Coral, Florida is serving up cocktail kits for its signature negronis, mules, mojitos, margaritas, and more. Each kit comes with bottles of liquor, as well as house mixers, garnishes, glasses, and detailed instructions.

Even cafes and breakfast joints have been able to take advantage of alcohol delivery by creating boozy brunch kits. For example, Houston’s Backstreet Cafe has created Bloody Mary Kits, as well as Mimosa Kits that include a bottle of bubbly and a choice of orange juice or wild berry mix.

And in states such as New York, where the delivery of pre-mixed cocktails if permitted, some restaurants are offering bulk ordering of their signature drinks. For instance, Patent Pending is now promoting large format cocktail delivery and is even offering to throw in a free roll of toilet paper for orders over $50.

A cocktail being prepared next to dried herbs

Happy Hour Pricing

To boost alcohol sales, some restaurants have created special promotions to encourage delivery orders. Many are even branding their promotions as a new type of happy hour for the ever-expanding group of work-from-home employees.

In Chicago, Roots Pizza is one restaurant offering a happy hour delivery discount. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., customers can use a special code in the Roots app to enjoy half off beer, wine, and White Claw.

In Austin, Cured at Pearl has extended happy hour even further, offering half-off drinks between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

And in some cases, restaurants are offering discounts all day long for customers that really need to unwind. For instance, Vancouver’s Homer St. Café and Bar is offering half-priced bottles of wine and $4 cans of beer to go with any food order – all day long. The restaurant is also offering six-packs for just $15.

There’s no question that alcohol delivery offers restaurants a beacon of hope during very trying times. Whether that means large format cocktail kits or six-packs for at-home happy hours, alcohol delivery can help restaurants stay open, keep staff on the payroll, and ultimately weather the storm of COVID-19. In some cases, these looser liquor laws might even stick around after the pandemic to help restaurants across the U.S. get back on their feet.

For more COVID-19 resources for your restaurant, click here. And if there is any topic you would like to see or story you would like to share, you can contact our resource team directly at blogfeedback@touchbistro.com.


Katherine is a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

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