Since March 2020, many Florida restaurants have struggled to make ends meet in the wake of business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many, pivoting to a takeout-and-delivery model didn't generate sufficient revenue to get by.
At the outset of the pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order that allowed restaurants and bars to sell wine, beer, ciders, and spirits in sealed containers. The move permitted restaurants and bars that lack so-called package licenses to sell stock from their inventories of wine, beer, and spirits, as long as the customer ordered something to eat along with the beverage).
Yesterday afternoon, by a vote of 38 to 2, the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 148, which would allow the sale of alcoholic beverages to-go. A parallel proposal, House Bill 329, is making its way through the Florida House of Representatives. If signed by the governor, the legislation will take effect on July 1.
Though the senate bill's passage is good news for many establishments, the pending law does come with restrictions.
Beverage purchases must be accompanied by a food order, and containers are limited in size to 32 ounces and must be sealed so as not to allow on-premises consumption. In addition, the beverage must be placed in a bag along with a dated receipt for both food and drinks.
If the drinks are to be transported in a motor vehicle, they must be transported in a locked compartment, a locked trunk, or the area behind the rearmost upright seat.
Most significantly, only establishments that have at least 2,500 square feet of dining space and a capacity of at least 150 people are permitted to offer drinks to-go, and they must qualify as food-service establishments — i.e., they need to derive at least 51 percent of their revenue from food sales.
Robert Lewis of Spiritus Law, a Coral Gables-based firm specializing in food-service and alcohol law, says most of his restaurant clients are happy that the bill has been passed.
"It extends an economic lifeline to many Florida restaurants. Until consumer confidence picks up, it allows patrons to have cocktails to go," Lewis tells New Times, though he acknowledges that the bill is tilted in favor of larger venues.
"Although things are picking up and vaccinations are being distributed, it has been a long road to recovery for many restaurants," he adds. "It's a great first step in helping the hospitality industry."
Aniece Meinhold, co-owner of Phuc Yea in Miami's MiMo District, says her restaurant is too small to fit Bill 148's capacity requirement.
Meinhold also adds that, at this point, her restaurant's dine-in business has grown to the point where making cocktails to-go wouldn't have much economic impact.
"Cocktails to-go worked for us during the height of the pandemic," she says. But now it's too little, too late."
If it's signed into law, Bill 148 will take effect July 1, 2021.