COVID-19

Takeout cocktails have saved many businesses. Some states want to make them permanent offerings.

Kristin Schwab Jun 25, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A bartender sells a frozen margarita to go in New York City. Offering alcohol for takeout has helped keep restaurants and bars afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

Takeout cocktails have saved many businesses. Some states want to make them permanent offerings.

Kristin Schwab Jun 25, 2020
A bartender sells a frozen margarita to go in New York City. Offering alcohol for takeout has helped keep restaurants and bars afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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