Currently, 33 states and D.C. permit to-go sales of alcohol, including beer, wine, spirits and cocktails or cocktail kits.

It’s no surprise that bottled beer, wine and cocktails ordered with to-go meals have been a lifeline for restaurants during the pandemic. In normal times, adult beverages can represent about 16.5% of sales on average across fullservice restaurants, according to Technomic. It’s likely that percentage is higher today.

According to its December 2020 Alcohol To Go Study, the research firm reports fullservice restaurant operators surveyed expect alcohol-to-go to settle in at an average 21% of total alcohol sales once the pandemic subsides.

In most states, liquor laws traditionally limit restaurants’ sales of adult beverages to on-premises consumption. But when operators were forced to suspend dine-in business to curtail COVID-19 transmission, many waived that requirement via executive order or revisions to the liquor laws, allowing alcohol sales with carryout and delivery meals.

Currently, 33 states and D.C. permit to-go sales of alcohol, including spirits and cocktails or cocktail kits. (Other states let bottled beer and wine go off-premises, but not mixed drinks or spirits.)

Popular with the adult crowd

Off-premises adult beverages have been a big hit. Approximately 7 in 10 fullservice restaurants, and half of quickservice and fast-casual eateries offer alcohol for carryout or delivery, according to the Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. Around 20% of adult consumers (and roughly 3 in 10 millennials) have added alcohol to a takeout or delivery order since the pandemic began. According to Technomic, 58% of consumers surveyed for the Alcohol To Go study said the ability to get adult bevs with their takeout orders had a major impact on their choice of restaurant.

But can this last?

As we emerge from the pandemic, states are weighing whether to continue allowing alcohol-to-go or return to the prior status quo.

Iowa and Ohio have already ruled to permit alcohol for off-premises consumption past the pandemic crisis and similar bills are before state legislatures elsewhere. Revisions to liquor laws are pending in 37 statehouses—and in some, as many as six different bills are being considered.

Obviously, operators need help navigating this fast-changing environment, complying with liquor laws and planning inventory and sales projections for the rest of the year.

The Association’s ServSafe Compliance division closely tracks regulations going on in every state, and compiles the information in an Expansion of Off Premise Alcohol table that’s updated every other week.

Off-premises alcohol sales have been “really important to restaurants during this crisis,” says Mike Whatley, the Association’s vice president, State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy, told the Pew Trusts in January.

“Typically, alcohol, especially cocktails, is one of your highest margin items. When you’re relying more on takeout and delivery, if you’re missing cocktails to-go, you’re missing that revenue stream.”

The Association’s new tool from the ServSafe Compliance team allows restaurateurs to confidently tap that stream even as the industry landscape continues to change. “We appreciate this critical support from state legislators and regulators to aid restaurant recovery efforts,” adds Kate Piche, senior director, Accreditation & Compliance.