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Will Bar and Restaurant Restrictions and Exceptions Continue Past the Pandemic?

The bar and restaurant industry news you’re seeking: will alcohol sales restrictions and exceptions continue as we move through the pandemic.

The alcohol industry was one of the many industries affected by social distancing and stay-at-home regulations enacted during the coronavirus pandemic. However, many states took the initiative to loosen regulatory enforcements and major alcohol laws since closing doors to dining caused a momentary downward financial trajectory in the alcohol industry. 

Loosening regulations was a strategic initiative many governments facilitated to try and ease the financial burden faced by the bar and restaurant owners. These changes served to promote sales, help business owners pay their rent and mortgages, and stay in business during a time of low customer traffic, among other benefits

Alcohol Laws That Went into Effect During the Pandemic

COVID-19 has significantly altered alcohol sales policies across numerous states in the US. Under the new regulations, on-premise alcohol businesses have changed how they sell and distribute alcohol. Below are some of the alcohol laws enacted during the pandemic. 

On-The-Go Alcoholic Beverages

Within the early months of the pandemic, numerous states made changes to alcohol laws and policies —allowing wineries, restaurants, breweries, and bars to sell cocktails and other alcoholic drinks to go. However, this regulation is subject to the following  conditions:

  • Drinks can only be sold with a full meal
  • The customer who makes an order must be the one to collect the package at the premises
  • Need for proper identification
  • The alcoholic drink must be packaged in a secure lid or can; it should be adequately sealed to prevent consumption without opening the package by breaking the seal

On-the-go alcoholic beverage regulations applies to: 

  • Businesses with an on-sale license
  • Licensed wine manufacturers
  • Beer manufacturers
  • Craft distillers running a public eating outlet within their production premises

However, measures and conditions vary by state. Additionally, consumers cannot carry alcoholic beverages after they have been partially consumed. For instance, they can’t leave with the beverages they ordered while dining in. 

Several states also imposed beverage size restrictions. For example, the limit in Tennessee is 16 fl. oz per alcoholic drink. There is, however, no limit on the number of drinks consumers can order. In Colorado, the limit for wine, beer, and spirituous liquors is 50.8 fl. oz., 144 fl. oz., and 33.8 fl. oz, respectively, per take-out order.

After the success of these regulations during the pandemic, many states approved measures allowing the law to be permanent. These states include: 

  • Ohio
  • Wisconsin
  • Kentucky
  • Arkansas
  • West Virginia
  • Oklahoma
  • And Montana

Others extended the temporary regulation until 2022. Meanwhile, some states are still negotiating to keep to-go beverages around longer. However, the liquor store industry is opposing the legislation. 

Flexible Outdoor Dining 

Thanks to flexible outdoor dining regulations, bars and restaurants in multiple states found new ways to serve drinks, including ideas to share available space with other vendors and expand their outdoor dining areas.

Different states in America altered alcohol laws to lower the costs of opening outdoor seating after quarantine shutdowns. This measure helped bars and restaurants that had suffered severe losses to bounce back. 

Before the pandemic, for example, if a bar owner had wanted to serve drinks on a patio, they would have had to pay a permit fee to do so. That’s  no longer always the case. States like Louisiana eliminated its outdoor dining fee to help restaurants remain afloat amid the pandemic. The state also shortened the approval wait time from six months to several days.

And the fight against the spread of the virus is still on. Many diners are still sitting outside, especially now, as the omicron variant creates uncertainties. However, residents and lawmakers are uncertain about the effects of outdoor dining on urban neighborhoods. For instance, in densely populated areas like New York City, the outdoor dining setups are placed on the sidewalk. 

While outdoor dining curbs the spread of coronavirus, the program faces opposition from different activists. Some argue that it impedes foot traffic and makes it hard for disabled people to maneuver sidewalks. For this reason, several lawmakers in different states have not yet decided whether to make outdoor dining regulations permanent. However, the existence of the omicron variant proves that there is still a dire need for outdoor dining spaces. 

Re-Legalization of Happy Hour in Specific States

Lastly, Rhode Island is one state that restricts happy hour to reduce drunk driving. However, since bars and restaurants are struggling to survive during the pandemic, lawmakers in this state may even begin legalizing happy hour to boost alcohol sales. 

Will These Changed Alcohol Laws Become Permanent?

The answer is: maybe! Although more than 12 states have permanently approved to-go alcoholic beverages sales, some have purely legalized the regulation as a temporary relief measure. And these alcohol laws will soon expire. For example, Tennessee's and Illinois to-go beverage sale laws expire in July 2023 and January 2024, respectively. 

Some cities like New York have recognized the additional revenue streams these laws bring for bars and restaurants. For this reason, the lawmakers in this city are considering making some of these laws permanent. 

While these changed alcohol laws can boost sales, they should only be treated as supplementary measures. Bars and restaurants will still have to figure out more reliable ways to bring in foot traffic to earn sustainable revenue and growth.

Navigate the Bar and Restaurant Industry with On-Premise POS Insights

These recently enacted measures serve as evidence that the alcohol law landscape in the US is changing, particularly during the pandemic. The impact of these laws on consumer behavior is something that you, as a retailer or supplier, can't ignore.  

Knowing which alcoholic beverages sell well can help your business generate more sales and revenue. iControl can offer this data from over 35,000 bars and restaurants nationwide via our POS Insights solution. Contact us today to request a demo.

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