Let Us Drink Outside! Relaxing Liquor Laws Could Save Bars and Restaurants

Allowing cocktails-to-go and outdoor drinking can help bartenders and restaurant staff survive the COVID-19 shutdowns.


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As COVID-19 cases surge around the U.S., several states are re-closing bars and restaurants, depriving owners, bartenders, and waiters of the opportunity to make a living at the outset of summer.

"They want to go back to work, but they also want to stay safe," says Reason contributor and bartender Jacob Grier. "It's really hard to do both at the same time if the only option is for people to come into a bar or a restaurant and to gather inside, especially because we know this is where the virus spreads and because, when you're eating and drinking, you can't have a mask on. We're seeing that's just a recipe for spreading the virus."

Grier says that the industry is pushing for the freedom to sell cocktails-to-go. Bars and restaurants "want to be able to package a drink up alongside their food—or even by itself—for a customer to take home and drink there." Another industry-saving tactic would be to expand outdoor spaces for drinking. That "could be done through closing sidewalks, putting out tables, even closing down streets, and creating public social plazas," says Grier.

"Or, if you want to go all the way, eliminating open container laws entirely, so that it's no longer a crime to have a drink outside."

A number of states are loosening alcohol regulations to help alleviate the economic burden of shutdowns. Iowa has become the first state to fully legalize cocktails-to-go while New York, Colorado, and Virginia, among other states, are experimenting with temporary liberalization. Several other states and municipalities are removing restrictions on public drinking.

Grier hopes these moves will help the hospitality industry as they struggle to navigate a difficult landscape.

"We think we will probably see a lot of contraction that will take years to recover from," says Grier. "Right now I view these laws allowing cocktails-to-go and expanding outdoor spaces as much about damage control as anything else."

Produced, shot, and edited by Meredith Bragg. 

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