Marbet Lewis Speaks to the South Florida Business Journal on '"Another Avenue to Succeed': To-Go Cocktails Become Permanent in Florida"

Marbet Lewis Speaks to the South Florida Business Journal on '

May 14, 2021

By Matthew Arrojas – Reporter, South Florida Business Journal
May 14, 2021, 2:55pm EDT | LINK TO ARTICLE

An emergency order enacted early in the pandemic to aid struggling restaurants will soon become Florida law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday to allow restaurants to sell to-go cocktails and other alcoholic beverages in perpetuity. The permanent measure only applies to establishments with special food service (SFS) liquor licenses that derive at least 51% of sales from food and nonalcoholic drinks. Businesses with the standard "quota" liquor license must derive at least 60% of sales from food and nonalcoholic drinks.

All alcoholic beverages sold for delivery or takeout must be in closed containers, the bill states.
The law is official July 1.

Craig O'Keefe, managing partner of Delray Beach-based Clique Hospitality, called the law the latest in a string of moves the Florida government has enacted to bolster the restaurant industry.

Clique, previously based in California, manages three restaurants in Delray Beach, as well as eateries in California and Nevada. Neither of those states have passed permanent to-go cocktail laws. Only 10 other states plus Washington, D.C. permanently allow to-go cocktails, while upwards of 30 gave temporary permissions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is another great example of how Florida is supporting business owners and giving us every opportunity to be prosperous," O'Keefe said. "It’s giving us another avenue to succeed.”

At Lionfish in Delray Beach, to-go alcohol sales have been minimal, he said. That is because as a high-end dine-in restaurant, most patrons are coming into the restaurant to be seated for an experience.

At Johnnie Brown's, however, the causal eatery is near the beach, so pre-made cocktails are in much larger demand. Still, takeout and delivery make up less than 25% of the eatery's total alcoholic beverage sales each month.

O'Keefe said there is still opportunity to grow those sales at a venue like Johnnie Brown's.

Many alcoholic beverage producers and distributors are selling packaged alcoholic beverages in high volumes to restaurants, as opposed to barrels of pure beer or spirits products, he said. Cans of hard seltzer or bottled cocktails are much easier to prepare and sell through third-party delivery and takeout apps, O'Keefe explained.

Therefore, as these products become more popular and accessible for bars and restaurants, he expects to-go cocktail sales to become a larger part of the restaurant's monthly beverage sales.

“I think with the products now out there, it’s definitely going to increase that percentage… and I think it's going to be an incremental increase," he said.

Marbet Lewis, founding partner at Coral Gables-based Spiritus Law, said because of the SFS license and 51% sales threshold requirement, this new law will have little impact on smaller, mom-and-pop restaurants. Venues must be at least 2,500 square feet to qualify for an SFS license.

"It doesn’t help the little guys as much as larger restaurants," she said. "Also, the alcohol to-go order must include food in the same transaction."

Lewis added that the bill also places a liability risk on restaurant owners, as they are responsible for verifying a delivery driver is at least 21 years old if they use third-party delivery services for to-go alcohol sales.

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About Spiritus Law:

Spiritus Law is an entrepreneurial regulatory and business law firm focused on the representation of highly regulated industries by offering legal services in the areas of alcohol and tobacco law, federal, state and local regulatory and business licensing, hospitality law and licensing, commercial and residential real estate development, land use and zoning, real estate transactions, government relations, banking and lending, general commercial retail including the retail sale of regulated products and public/private partnership transactions. The Firm is founded on traditional principles of client counseling and teamwork with a cutting-edge twist on regulatory innovation and modern problem-solving. Spiritus Law combines a unique blend of professionals, including attorneys, government consultants, licensing assistants and paralegals to assist its diverse clients. Our modern approach to transparent client representation and employee engagement defines our collaborative spirit and progressive energy.

Core Services:

Primary service areas include: Alcohol Licensing & Regulatory Compliance, Retail & Hospitality Licensing & Permitting, Real Estate Transactions & Commercial Development, Firearms & Security Compliance, Public/Private Infrastructure &Development, Tobacco Product Regulatory Compliance, and Business Transactions & Financial Services. Our firm services an array of highly regulated industries, including alcohol producers, sports teams, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, grocery stores, liquor stores, bars, residential and commercial real estate developers, state agencies, municipal governments, investment firms and individual investors, lending institutions, security service providers, firearms suppliers and more.