Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was perhaps the worst year ever for the hospitality and restaurant industry. Lockdowns, forced closings, and restrictions have changed the face of how these types of businesses operate. Thankfully, the passing of Senate Bill 148 has allowed Florida restaurants to continue using the to-go privileges that emerged during the crisis.
What is Senate Bill 148?
Senate Bill 148 makes the to-go cocktail privileges that restaurants used during the pandemic to stay afloat, permanent.
Early in the crisis, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recognized the need for innovation and realized the economic benefits of allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine, and mixed drinks along with food orders. Not only could patrons enjoy the complete dining experience in their own homes, but the restaurants could enjoy a stable income. The to-go cocktails bill was introduced early in the legislative session and quickly became a priority item for the industry. Now the state is making it permanent with some slight enhancements to the rules.
Making To-Go Cocktails Permanently Lawful
Senate Bill 148 becomes effective Florida law on July 1, 2021 and essentially makes the initial temporary cocktails-to go privileges permanent for some licensees. Patrons that continue craving the full dining experience at home can continue to do so as restaurants re-open to full capacity and enhance their on and off-premise menu options.
The proposed cocktails-to-go legislation went through several rounds of revisions because Florida’s licensing structure assigns privileges based on the businesses’ alcohol license type and limits full liquor licenses to those establishments qualifying as bona fide restaurants holding a Special Food Service (SFS) alcohol license or to those businesses that can afford to purchase costly quota licenses. While cocktails-to-go were prohibited across the board prior to the pandemic, quota alcohol license holders that generally operate bars and nightclub type establishments with more limited food service have always had the privilege of selling manufacturer sealed bottles of wine and distilled spirits, and growlers in some cases, to-go. Accordingly, the legislature needed to walk a fine line between allowing this new privilege and protecting the value and privileges that come with a quota license. While the cocktails-to-go legislation has its weaknesses and shortfalls, the final draft contains significant compliance measures and adequately balances privileges between bona fide restaurants and quota license holders.
Pursuant to the final draft of the adopted legislation, both restaurants and quota license holders will be able to benefit from the cocktails-to-go privileges to some degree. However, a major distinction is in the types of alcohol products that can be sold by each and how those products must be sold. All licensees must comply with the following:
- The establishment must hold both a qualifying alcohol license and also be properly licensed as a food service establishment with the Florida Division of Hotels & Restaurants.
- All alcoholic beverages sold to-go must either be in manufacturer sealed containers or must be sealed at the restaurant or bar in such a way that the container cannot be immediately opened.
- The alcohol must be placed in a bag or in an additional container with a dated receipt. The bag or container must be sealed in such a way that any tempering would be visibly evident.
- Deliveries can only be made by drivers that are at least 21 years old and the patron’s ID must be checked at the time of delivery. Alcohol may not be given to or delivered to anyone under the age of 21.
There are some notable distinctions in privileges between quota license holders and restaurants holding SFS alcohol licenses. For example, quota license holders can only sell cocktails prepared on the premises to go if the order contains a food order and 40% of the total order charge must include food and non-alcoholic beverages, excluding manufacturer sealed alcohol products. Quota license holders must also stop selling cocktails-to-go as soon as they stop preparing food or at midnight, whichever is earlier. SFS licensed restaurants cannot sell any alcohol to go unless food is included in the same order but are not held to the same 40% food and non-alcoholic beverage sales requirement. However, SFS licensed restaurants cannot sell manufacturer-sealed distilled spirits to-go.
Florida’s new alcohol to-go privileges will likely undergo some fine-tuning with respect to delivery requirements. At least 30 other states have joined in pushing for permanent alcohol-to-go privileges. For now, alcohol-to-go continues to trend throughout the U.S.
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