One glimmer of good news for restaurants and bars during the otherwise devastating coronavirus shutdown period from March 17 to May 27 has been the temporary statewide executive order allowing takeout liquor sales. The convenience for customers grabbing food to go and the extra bit of revenue for businesses were both a morale booster and a lifeline for the industry.
But this executive order has an expiration date, and Governor Jared Polis has already extended it twice, essentially overriding existing liquor laws that ban takeout booze sales from all but a few exceptions (breweries, wineries and distilleries can legally sell bottles, cans, Crowlers and growlers out the door). Two state senators, Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) and Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village), want to make the temporary changes a little more permanent, so they've introduced Senate Bill 213 to extend off-premises sales for two years.
If passed into law, the bill would allow a number of different kinds of establishments, including restaurants, bars, distilleries, breweries, wineries and clubs, to sell sealed containers of no more than 750 milliliters of hard alcohol or wine, or 72 ounces of beer or cider for takeout and delivery. Businesses would be required to apply for a permit for to-go sales, and they'd have to pay a fee for the permit.
Like the executive order, the new bill has an expiration date — but not until July 1, 2022, at which point the rules and regulations could be revisited.
As far as the exact kinds of containers that would be allowed, that would be up to Colorado's Liquor Enforcement Division. Some states already allow to-go cups of cocktails, which are sealed with a plastic membrane like a boba smoothie. Other possibilities include Crowler-type cans that are filled and sealed behind the bar, bottles or growlers with lids, or even just plastic cups and lids with an attached paper seal to indicate that the container hasn't been opened in transit.
The Colorado Restaurant Association has thrown its support behind the bill, noting that "85 percent of Colorado adults said they favored keeping alcohol to-go and delivery in a recent poll," according to Sonia Riggs, the organization's president and CEO. The CRA also points out that 87 percent of restaurants have reported earning revenue from takeout booze, and 20 percent say that the revenue has been "significant."
"The ability to sell alcohol for takeout and delivery has saved many restaurants from going out of business during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the majority of traditional taverns and bars were unable to participate due to their limited food menu," said Stephanie Fransen Hicks, the executive director of the Tavern League of
Colorado, said in a statement. "Passing legislation to allow restaurants and bars to continue selling alcohol for takeout and delivery is necessary in ensuring as many of our valued, local businesses survive the grueling economic recovery period we have ahead of us."
Arguments against the bill have arisen from liquor-store owners, who worry that takeout sales from restaurants and bars could cut into their business, but the higher price of beer, wine and cocktails at full-service establishments should keep takeout sales to convenience-based purchases and would unlikely become a replacement for packaged booze.
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Meanwhile, Polis just signed an executive order cutting red tape for restaurants and suspending certain statutes to remove bureaucratic barriers to serving alcoholic beverages in temporary outdoor dining spaces.
“We know this is a difficult time for so many Coloradans, especially those in our restaurant and service industry. That’s why we want to cut as much red tape as we can to ensure that restaurants can get creative in serving customers for outdoor dining in as safe and easy a manner as possible,” Polis said. “I’m proud of the entrepreneurial spirit of Coloradans and know many business owners have had to find new, innovative ways to serve their customers these past few months. It remains critical that Coloradans continue wearing masks when they leave the house and washing their hands as much as possible. While we are able to slowly take these steps toward some semblance of normalcy, we are far from how things used to be, and we must continue taking the necessary steps to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe.”
The order allows restaurants to obtain temporary approval from state and local licensing authorities to modify their licensed premises to include outdoor dining areas within 1,000 feet of the restaurant, and also allows for the consumption of alcoholic beverages on a public right of way that has been authorized by ordinance, resolution, or rule adopted by a municipality, city and county, or county.
The order also requires the Department of Revenue’s Liquor Enforcement Division to respond to any applications for the temporary modification of a license within 24 hours, to prevent any delays in restaurants offering safer outdoor service during the pandemic.