Florida’s Cocktail Delivery Ban During Coronavirus Outbreak Hurts Restaurants
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Early Friday afternoon, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency and a state of emergency for all of Florida due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In the five-page statement, DeSantis addressed restaurants and bars and closed all dining rooms nationwide, but allowed takeout and delivery of food.
In addition, the governor dealt with the sale of alcohol by cutting off consumption on site but allowing restaurants and bars to sell wine, beer, cider and spirits in sealed containers. The move allows restaurants and bars that lack so-called package licenses to sell stocks of wine, beer and spirits from their stocks (as long as the customer orders something to eat with their favorite drink).
What a nice guy right?
The problem is that DeSantis’ order for Florida’s restaurants and bars is too little and too late. Those who haven’t fully closed the store for the duration are on the food service equivalent of life support. Establishments that would normally greet a heavy crowd for Friday happy hour pack a burger or two at best for an Uber Eats driver to collect and deliver.
Florida’s restaurateurs and bar owners didn’t expect the governor to wave a magic wand and make the coronavirus go away.
But at least he could have allowed them to pour their customers a drink.
That is exactly what New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo did this week. On Monday, Cuomo authorized the New York State Liquor Authority to do most of what DeSantis has just done and sell cocktails.
That is, New York’s order provides that “alcoholic beverages sold for off-site consumption under these guidelines may be sold in any size, closed or sealed original container.”
There’s even a Q&A section that makes it clear as a gin jigger:
I run a limited food tavern. Can I deliver / sell alcoholic take-away beverages with orders of food consisting of items such as potato chips, pretzels, peanuts, etc.? Yes, if this is the standard food requirement for your license, you can sell alcoholic beverages to take away or to come with these items.
Can I sell mixed drinks to take away or for delivery sales? Yes, provided the drink is put in a closed container. All sales must be in accordance with local government open container regulations.
Cuomo doesn’t drink alone, mind you.
On Wednesday, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued an exemption allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol with grocery purchases. The waiver applies to beer, wine and mixed drinks. Today California issued a similar order.
It’s safe to say that Miami bar and restaurant owners don’t toast to DeSantis.
“If you can’t figure out how to help the small restaurant or business owner, what are you doing?” says Dan Binkiewicz, partner at Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company in Miami Beach. In Binkiewicz’s view, Florida’s half measure is nothing more than “lazy politics”. He adds, “You know you’re going to lose at least 20 percent of the restaurants in the state and you can’t do the little things?”
Ben Potts, co-owner of Beaker & Gray in Wynwood and Sylvester in the Design District, expressed similar feelings when the New Times called. Potts, who is closed for New Years Eve and struggling to keep the Beaker & Gray lights on for pickup and delivery jobs, sees no reason Florida shouldn’t allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails. “If the government tells everyone to stay home and pick up their groceries at grocery stores or restaurants that handle groceries, what’s the difference with a drink?”
Potts notes that delivering some mixed drinks to customers is more responsible than selling whole bottles of alcohol. “Most people have no idea about portion control when they are mixing a drink at home,” he says. “However, a bartender will make a cocktail with a regulated amount of alcohol. I don’t know what it’s about.”
At least one bar in Miami quietly prepares cocktails for their customers. The owners urged the New Times to withhold the bar’s name “because any attention may be completely turning us off,” then announced that they are mixing loads of margaritas and daiquiris to make ends meet during the crisis.
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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.