ALLOW RESTAURANTS TO SELL HARD LIQUOR

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By Bob Katzen

The Senate approved a bill that would allow restaurants to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with take-out and delivery orders. A law passed in April allows restaurants and bars to sell limited quantities of beer and wine, in their original containers, with takeout and delivery orders. The order did not include mixed drinks. Restaurants are still barred from serving customers in their dining rooms under a March executive order from Gov. Charlie Baker.

The proposal requires orders for cocktails to be placed by midnight or earlier if the establishment closes before that. The measure defines mixed drinks as a drink sealed in a container holding up to 64 fluid ounces of liquor and mixer that have been combined.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 emergency, I have heard from our local restaurant owners about the revenue that to-go mixed drinks could generate to help them stay afloat and survive the impacts of the shutdown,” said Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), the sponsor of the measure. “While many mom and pop establishments have been able to slowly reopen in recent weeks, they still face significant challenges in their efforts to retain employees and pay their bills. While the Legislature does not have a say in the reopening plan during this continued state of emergency, we still have an obligation to use every legislative tool we have to help those that are struggling due to the pandemic. The passage of this bill will greatly help our job creators in the restaurant community, as well as their employees, many of whom have faced challenges with unemployment and uncertainty over whether their jobs will be there for them in the future.”

“Restaurants are among the hardest, if not the most impacted businesses by the Coronavirus shutdown,” said Steve Clark, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “Allowing mixed drinks to go is another tool for restaurants to attempt to increase revenue opportunities. We hope Massachusetts joins the other neighboring states in authorizing this legislation. There is just something about a professionally made cocktail that can’t be replicated at home.”

The House approved a different version of the bill on June 3 but the Senate has not yet acted on it. The House bill includes more than the “cocktails to go” in the Senate measure. The House version would also cap delivery fees by third parties like GrubHub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price until 45 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends. When the pandemic struck, many restaurants were not equipped to offer online ordering or delivery and are forced to rely heavily on these delivery companies.

The House measure also allows cities and towns to authorize some changes to state licensing and local zoning procedures in order to make it easier and faster for restaurants to open outdoor seating. Another provision would temporarily waive late fees for any restaurants that are behind on paying the revenue from the meals tax to the state.

The Senate bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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