Takeout cocktails have saved many businesses. Some states want to make them permanent offerings.
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My local taco shop in Brooklyn has a cash register right at the door, where workers sling icy cold margaritas in clear plastic cups. Pretty soon, the cocktails are in the hands of customers and on their way to homes under lockdown.
To be clear, it’s not legal to drink alcohol on the street in New York. But those drinks, and the concept of happy hour to go, is keeping a lot of restaurants and bars alive. Nationally, the sector has lost around 4 million jobs since the pandemic hit.
“It is the atomic unit of our current business situation,” said Joshua Stylman, co-founder of Threes Brewing in Brooklyn.
A lot of the business relies on not just sales at its two bars, but also on selling draft beer to other bars. That was a problem under pandemic conditions. “We wound up pouring a lot of beer down the drain,” Stylman said. “But we also got as much in the packaging calendar as we humanly could.”
The brewery built an online ordering site in three days and was able to bring back 60% of its staff.
According to the National Restaurant Association, these kinds of rehiring numbers have driven more than 30 states to create takeout drink laws. “And you’re seeing certain states start to talk about it from a permanent perspective,” said Mike Whatley, the association’s vice president of state and local affairs.
The industry had been pushing for this even before COVID-19 hit because takeout and delivery have become a bigger part of the equation. Plus, alcohol has high profit margins.
But it’s not easy to pivot to takeout only. Kylie North owns a cocktail bar called Water Bear Bar with her wife, Laura Keeler, in Boise, Idaho. They had to buy equipment to can their fizzy drinks and create a menu that works for to-go orders. “There’s only gonna be a few drinks that actually taste good enough to put our brand’s sticker on it,” North said.
During the pandemic, takeout sales are bringing in a fifth of what the bar made on a normal night. Not ideal, but enough to bring back half the staff. “It’s not just coming in and cleaning,” she said. “It’s getting to use that creative side and be a bartender.”
And with Idaho’s cases of coronavirus rising, North is looking to make to-go drinks a bigger — and possibly permanent — piece of her business.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
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It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.
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Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.
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