New York State and Texas led the way, but as of March 24, 12 states have moved to allow restaurants that offer food for delivery or pick-up to legally provide beverage alcohol in varying forms and formats, helping operators to serve customers while ringing higher sales during the COVID-19 emergency.
As of Tuesday, 44 states and Washington, DC, have limited restaurants and bars to take-out and delivery service only. But Maryland, Nebraska, California, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Washington, DC, Arkansas and Alabama followed the lead of New York and Texas in allowing temporary relief, and more states are expected to grant exemptions shortly.
For example, on March 24, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker introduced a bill expected to pass this week that would allow bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine with delivery and pick-up orders.
Which operations can and can not deliver depends on the state. In Oklahoma, which removed restrictions March 24, all alcohol retailers including liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and bars can deliver certain alcohol beverages until April 17.
Independent restaurants moved fast in New York City, such as Dante, which within days started offering numerous cocktails to go, along with the Jeffrey, which now delivers bottled cocktails with food.
But chain operators are in many cases still figuring out their next steps. As an example, the 66-unit Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill had plans in effect to start delivering beverage alcohol where allowed by March 27.
Some have already moved: the 150-plus-unit pizza chain Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers started rolling out beverage alcohol delivery when the state of Alabama ordered a suspension of restrictions and is now offering a selection of bottled and canned beers, red and white wines, and spirits that can be added to any pizza order.
The 29-unit Modern Market fast-casual chain included the beer, wine and non-alcohol beverages it menus shortly after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis suspended licensing rules temporarily in order to allow restaurants to sell alcohol as part of pick-up and delivery orders in the state.
At the four-unit Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, co-owner Randy Cohen boasted about curbside Margaritas being sold soon after it was allowed, according to the Austin Business Journal. "If you can't find a gallon of milk, come down and we'll give you a gallon of Margaritas—and it's without the ice so it'll last for days," Cohen said. "I told the manager we should give out a free roll of toilet paper with each order. It would be fun. People need a laugh."
Operators with pre-existing relationships with such beverage alcohol delivery services as Drizzly, Minibar and Saucey, all of whom have seen their business skyrocket, may be able to work with them in states where the rules allow.