Great pleasure comes from a tipple of whisky or glass of wine. We enjoy it while connecting with friends or unwinding from our busy lives. But sometimes we’re too tired to venture out to our local pub; sometimes we blame the weather. Whatever the excuse, when we're stuck at home and have run out of beer or perhaps lack an essential cocktail ingredient, it’s never a welcomed find. Sometimes we want our Negroni to just magically appear.
In many places, it’s not so much magic, but reality.
Almost anything can be delivered with the click of a button these days, isn’t it obvious that alcoholic beverages should be an option, too? If one can have Steak Frites delivered from their local bistro, why can’t they tack on a bottle of Beaujolais as well? Even more, what’s the harm in having a beer while picnicking in the park? These are questions many consumers are asking, and lawmakers have taken notice.
Cities and states nationwide have revisited their laws around “to-go” alcohol, where consumers can openly carry alcoholic beverages in public or have them delivered directly to their doors. And rightfully so. Not only is the concept a perk for consumers, but it’s also a boon to local businesses and economies.
“To-Go” Alcohol, Explained
To-go alcohol is defined in two ways:
1. Consumers can purchase alcoholic drinks such as a cocktail to take home or have delivered from a courier service like Grubhub or DoorDash.
2. Consumers can purchase a drink from a licensed establishment like a bar or restaurant and can drink it while walking around town, or in a designated area.
When it comes to the latter, there are select cities around the nation that have relaxed open container laws. While each city has its interpretations and rules around open container consumption, the general rule of thumb is that it must be consumed within designated areas, and glass is almost always prohibited.
Here are a select few cities around the country that are well known for their lenient open container policies.
Savannah, GA - Savannah’s open container laws are some of the most lenient in the United States. People are allowed to carry 16 oz cups of any alcohol, so long as it’s in the vicinity of Savannah’s Historic District.
Las Vegas - Visitors to Sin City can do more than shoot craps and gamble away savings—drinking alcohol is permitted as long as it’s not in a glass container, which can come with serious fines, even from non-alcoholic beverages.
New Orleans - No matter what time of the year (or day) it is, there’s ample reason to party in New Orleans. Visitors to The Big Easy can walk around with alcohol anywhere in town just as long as it’s not in a glass container.
Memphis, TN - Considered one of America’s greatest cultural beacons, Beale Street in downtown Memphis is famous for its row of blues bars and music venues. Despite a statewide open-container ban, Beale Street is the only exception to the law.
Butte, MT - When in Big Sky Country, consumers can drink openly without causing a scene—just as long as it’s not between the hours of 2 - 8 a.m. when it’s strictly prohibited.
While consumers can lawfully drink in public in these select cities, many question why they can’t have beer or cocktails delivered to their door. The debate around alcohol delivery is at the forefront of post-pandemic life. After COVID-19 arrived, on-premise businesses shifted to delivery to stay afloat. Among the many mandates that city and state governments imposed on businesses, the relaxation of alcohol laws helped struggling local businesses endure.
For example, in New York City, restaurant and bar businesses offered beer, wine, and cocktails alongside their normal offerings for pickup and delivery. For consumers, the ability to walk to their favorite neighborhood bar or restaurant and grab a cocktail to-go was a welcomed pleasure at the height of the pandemic’s darkest days. So much so, that an overwhelming majority want it to be a permanent reality: a recent study found that nearly 80% of New Yorkers want to keep ‘cocktails to-go.’
“To-Go” Alcohol Policies Are Good For Business
Not only are to-go policies cherished by consumers, but they’re also good for business. Cities that share these common laws have fostered a unique and popular night-life economy. Tens of thousands of people flock to downtown locales to enjoy bar crawls and open-air events, creating a boon to local bars and restaurants.
Pinkie Master’s advertises to-go drinks on St. Patrick’s Day via Instagram
Just take New York City again as an example. While many saw the sale of “to-go” alcohol as merely a pandemic measure, others saw it as a window to a financially brighter future. In a recent survey issued by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce that analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses from 2020 to 2021, 50% of bar and restaurant businesses said alcohol “to-go” increased their bottom line by 10-20% contributing to a jump in sales from the previous year. The evidence suggests that a permanent allowance of “to-go” alcohol will be a welcomed addition to struggling bars and restaurants.
Additionally, during the pandemic, dozens of New York City city streets were either temporarily or permanently closed to car traffic. Restaurant seating spilled out into the streets and ushered in a movement of al fresco dining reminiscent of its European counterparts. The addition of to-go beverages would only add more foot traffic and revenue to businesses in these corridors. Entire city blocks would become destinations for events and nightlife, developing its own unique cultural identity overnight.
Why Cities Nationwide Are Rethinking Their "To-Go" Drinks Laws
When former Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put an end to pandemic rules around the sale of to-go alcohol, businesses were at first blindsided and then furious, as Bartender Max Green told Esquire, “Governor Cuomo can’t quit kicking the service industry while it’s down… Bar and restaurant staff now have to tell their guests they can’t do one more fun thing they have gotten used to—leaving the guests frustrated with their reluctant enforcer.”
As New York loosened its alcohol laws as a means to helping small businesses weather the covid-related restrictions and mandates, many bars and restaurants relied on “to-go” drinks as a way to keep afloat. Even as the mandates lifted and bars and restaurants reopened, “to-go” alcohol sales opened an entirely new revenue stream for businesses. Many bar and restaurant owners are weary to lay blame on politicians and more on alcohol industry lobbying efforts. Claire Sprouse, owner of Brooklyn’s late Hunky Dory told Esquire that the laws have been politicized for decades, “The liquor store associations have been organized and lobbying for years to uphold antiquated laws that ensure their survival over others.”
According to this survey, however, off-premise alcohol sales increased $2.45B during the pandemic compared to the year before. It’s hard to fathom how allowing small on-premise businesses a small slice of that pie is a threat. If anything, it’s a huge boost to local economies which attributes to their cultural identity and growth. This is why over a dozen states around the nation have passed legislation to make “to-go” drinks a permanent reality.
New York State is leading this effort. In her recent State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul said NY is negotiating legislation that would allow bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages to-go, making the pandemic-enabled concept a permanent reality for struggling food and beverage businesses. Similar bills have been introduced in Texas, Florida, and Washington D.C. that would legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages for takeout and delivery. The timing seems right, too. Delivery companies are already betting big on the future of alcohol delivery in the United States, including UberEats with their acquisition of alcohol delivery platform Drizly. As more red tape unravels around the concept, cities, states, and their local economies will be all the better for it in the short term and well into the future.