State Senator Diana DiZoglio from Methuen wants to extend a bill approved last year that allows restaurants to sell mixed drinks to take away – a move that has helped them during the pandemic.
But she has met opposition, particularly from package store lobbyists who say the drinks-to-go program is damaging their businesses.
“The lobbyists have worked hard,” DiZoglio said on the floor of the Senate last week as she testified for her amendment to extend the program for another two years. “Because it’s the parcel store lobbyists … pointing out that this provision of selling a few mixed drinks to improve the bottom line of a restaurant is causing massive destruction in the parcel store industry.”
She then asked, “Do we really believe that? Aren’t we in contact? I see – the lobbyists are doing their job, pushing their voters, but give me a break. You will tell me I’ll do a few.” crushed by specialty cocktails the packaging business industry? “
After DiZoglio, a Democrat, finished her testimony, Senator Joan Lovely, D-Beverly, asked a point of order and stated that DiZoglio’s amendment was “beyond the scope” of the bill in question.
This objection was confirmed and DiZoglio’s amendment was repealed. Another amendment she proposed to limit delivery charges for food and beverages was rejected.
DiZoglio continues the fight. She has tabled similar changes to the budget that are up for debate this week.
“Our local restaurants rely on us to take immediate action to stay afloat during this unprecedented time,” she said.
DiZoglio’s 1st Essex District consists of Methuen, Haverhill, Newburyport, Amesbury, Merrimac, Salisbury and parts of North Andover. If passed, its amendments would affect the entire state.
The main concern of DiZoglio, Restaurants and Bars is that with the governor’s state of emergency for the pandemic on June 15, certain safeguards such as takeaway legislation and capping delivery charges will also end.
Even if the budget changes are passed, they will not come into effect until July, when the state budget comes into effect. That would leave a six-week void where restaurants couldn’t sell take-away drinks. It can also encourage delivery companies to charge delivery fees that come out of the pockets of restaurants in trouble.
Because of these concerns, DiZoglio has tabled two stand-alone bills that, if put on the table by Senate President Karen Spilka, could be put to an immediate vote – just in time for the governor’s state of emergency on June 15.
“I am still urging my leadership to get my bills to the vote as soon as possible,” said DiZoglio.
A phone message asking for a comment on this story was left with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers in Massachusetts Friday afternoon, but the organization did not respond immediately.
DiZoglio and members of the restaurant industry took to Instagram Friday morning, encouraging people to call or email their elected state officials and ask them to support measures to protect restaurants.
Nancy Batista-Caswell, owner of two restaurants – the Brine in Newburyport and the Oak and Rowan in Boston – said she was surprised to hear from DiZoglio that people who own liquor stores are against the take-away expansion.
“Liquor lobbyists say restaurants affect their revenue stream because we make take-away cocktails,” Batista-Caswell said. “I think that’s inaccurate. Restaurants only offer our guests more personal experiences.”
Shortly after the COVID-19 epidemic closed restaurants across the state, Batista-Caswell Mass joined forces. Restaurants United – a group of small, independent, non-business restaurants. She is the executive director of the organization, which now has 1,100 restaurant members and 6,000 social media followers, mostly made up of hotel professionals.
She said the organization would be involved in the legislative process in hopes of helping member restaurants survive the pandemic financially. The organization started out with a focus on Boston bars and restaurants, but the effort has grown into a nationwide push.
“Now we’re campaigning for the state – the Cape and the Islands, the Berkshires, the north and south coasts,” she said. “We intend to have a seat at the legislative table and be a resource for restaurant members at the same time.”
Batista-Caswell said that DiZoglio’s bills, if approved, would provide some level of convenience in an uncertain business climate.
“These bars weren’t open to fully understand what was going to happen,” she said. “They don’t know if people will come back. But if this is removed, they won’t be given the option to survive. Who says the bars will be full? There are still a lot of people who are scared of one Place to sit in a restaurant or bar. We need the options to rebuild to keep these people busy. “