“The to-go business never returns to what it was before,” said Christopher Almeida, beverage director at The Tasty in Plymouth and proponent of an expansion of take-away cocktails. “If we don’t make it part of the culture and the business, we are missing out on a huge opportunity.”
Legislature on Beacon Hill is considering a move to extend the permit for at least two years beyond the end of Baker’s emergency warrant. The proposal comes from efforts in other countries to continue similar alcohol implementation programs. Texas was the last state to take such a move last week after permits in Florida, Ohio, and other states.
In Massachusetts, the initiative has met opposition from some package store owners, who argue that allowing restaurants to continue selling take-out cocktails could undermine their businesses.
Robert A. Mellion, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, said the change would make sense in an emergency, but its members want to restore the typical separation between companies that sell alcohol for drink locally and those that sell it consumed elsewhere .
“They knew what they were getting into when they stepped into the business,” he said of restaurants whose licenses so far only allowed them to sell beer, wine and liquor locally.
Mellion said he believes restaurants will try to compete directly with liquor stores if the temporary rules are extended. If restaurants can permanently sell their takeaway, liquor stores should be allowed to have tasting rooms where local people can consume alcohol.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat who sponsored the bill to grant restaurants a two-year extension, said she saw no direct threat to packaging businesses under current state rules.
DiZoglio also sponsored a bill passed last year that allowed mixed drinks to take away. The state had previously allowed take-away beer and wine.
The mixed drinks measure limits customers to 64 ounces of cocktails per order. They must be mixed and sold with groceries on site by a restaurant employee. The separate measure of the state control commission for alcoholic beverages allows restaurants to sell up to 92 ounces of malt beverages and 1.5 liters of wine for external consumption as part of a food sale in a state of emergency.
“Anyone who has ordered mixed drinks to take away knows it has been a success, and this is a simple thing we can do to contribute to public health and the economic recovery of these troubled restaurants,” DiZoglio said. She said she would like the permit to become permanent at some point.
Almeida of The Tasty in Plymouth acknowledged that the allowable amounts of alcohol he can sell to take away are generous. But he said sales that hit those limits usually only apply to large orders of groceries. He said carryout cocktail sales have been a major sales driver for many of the restaurants he spoke to as part of his advocacy work, accounting for between 10 and 50 percent of total sales.
He said he believes that even if the restaurant business recovers in warmer months, there is no guarantee that customers will be as happy with indoor dining in colder weather as they were before the pandemic. Companies like The Tasty need a clearer picture of how to survive in this case. For example, he would have to decide whether to continue investing in glass bottles for take-away cocktails and in the materials needed to seal them so that they comply with the law.
These spending will benefit the overall economy of the state, Almeida said.
“The fact is, not only does it help the staff,” he said, “we also need to buy supplies.”
Andy Rosen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.