Florida Senate Passes Bill to Allow Restaurants to Sell Alcoholic Drinks To-Go

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Since March 2020, many Florida restaurants have struggled to make ends meet after business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many, switching to a take-out-and-delivery model wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order that allowed restaurants and bars to sell wine, beer, cider and liquor in sealed containers. The move made it possible for restaurants and bars that lack so-called package licenses to sell stocks from their stocks of wine, beer, and spirits as long as the customer ordered something to eat with the drink.

Yesterday afternoon, the Florida Senate passed Senate Draft 148 by 38-2 votes, which would allow takeaway alcoholic beverages to be sold. A parallel proposal, House Bill 329, is going through the Florida House of Representatives. If signed by the governor, the law will come into effect on July 1st.

While the passage of the Senate Bill is good news for many agencies, the pending bill has limitations.

Beverage purchases must be accompanied by a grocery order and the size of the containers is limited to 32 ounces. They must be sealed to prevent on-site consumption. In addition, the drink must be placed in a bag along with a dated receipt for food and drink.

If the drinks are to be transported in a motor vehicle, they must be transported in a locked compartment, a locked trunk or in the area behind the rearmost upright seat.

Most importantly, only establishments with at least 2,500 square feet of dining space and a capacity of at least 150 people are allowed to offer take-away beverages, and they must qualify as hospitality establishments – that is, they must derive at least 51 percent of their revenue from food sales.

Robert Lewis of Spiritus Law, a Coral Gables-based law firm specializing in food service and alcohol law, says most of his restaurant customers are happy the bill passed.

“It extends an economic lifeline to many Florida restaurants. Until consumer confidence rises, customers can have cocktails,” Lewis told the New Times, although he acknowledges the bill will be tipped in favor of larger venues.

“Although things are accelerating and vaccinations are being distributed, it has been a long road to recovery for many restaurants,” he added. “It’s a great first step in helping the hospitality industry.”

Aniece Meinhold, co-owner of Phuc Yea in the MiMo district of Miami, says her restaurant is too small to meet the capacity needs of Bill 148.

Meinhold adds that by this time their restaurant’s dine-in business had grown so much that making take-away cocktails no longer had a major economic impact.

“Take-out cocktails worked for us during the height of the pandemic,” she says. But now it’s too little, too late. “

When signed into law, Bill 148 will come into effect on July 1, 2021.

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Laine Doss is the food and liquor editor for the Miami New Times. It was featured on Eat Street by Cooking Channel and in the Great Food Truck Race by Food Network. She won an Alternative Weekly Award for her contribution on what it’s like to wait for tables.

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