To-Go Cocktails Now Legal in Miami — But Only for Big Restaurants

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Tobacco Road by Kush is one of many independent restaurants that may not benefit from the new to-go law.

Photo by Alex Markow

At the height of the pandemic, when restaurants were struggling to stay afloat, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an emergency ordinance that allowed restaurants and bars to sell wine, beer, cider and cocktails in sealed containers. The move made it possible for restaurants that did not have so-called package licenses to offer their customers alcoholic beverages as long as the customers ordered food.

Last month, the Florida Senate passed Senate Act 148 that allows take-away alcoholic beverages to be sold. On May 13, DeSantis signed the law, which means that Florida restaurants will be able to offer take-away cocktails in sealed containers starting July 1.

While signing the bill at a Houligan’s Sports Grille in Ormond Beach, a Republican member of the Florida Legislature representing parts of Osceola and Polk said, “Some of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic were our local restaurants … business friendly bill will help support our restaurant industry and its tens of thousands of employees. ”

Sounds like a win for Miami restaurateurs – until you read the fine print, which is filled with restrictions that make it almost impossible for mom and pop restaurants to take advantage of.

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The bill states that in order to sell take-away beverages, a restaurant must be “a food service establishment with 2,500 square feet of service space, equipped to serve meals for 150 people at a time, and account for at least 51” percent of its gross sales from food and beverages the sale of food and soft drinks.

In reality, however, it is more complicated. In order for a bar to be able to sell to-go cocktails under the new law, it must have a so-called “special restaurant license”. This license, often referred to as the SRX license, was designed to separate restaurants from other establishments that need to obtain what are known as quota licenses, which are so named because state law sets the total number of licenses that are in a county on the Basis of its population.

The requirements for SRX licenses also vary from county to county. For example, the capacity requirements currently range from 65 people at the same time to 200 people at the same time. (In most Miami-Dade and Broward, the requirement is 150.)

Samantha Padgett, general counsel of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), explains that a restaurant that did not have a full liquor quota license (or a packaged liquor license) prior to COVID could not sell take-away alcohol.

“Usually you need a quota license to serve alcohol, and they’re expensive,” says Padgett. “It could cost half a million dollars in certain counties. The SRX license allows restaurants that make most of their grocery income to sell alcohol. This new law now allows them to sell take-away alcohol.”

Several of Matt Kusher’s Kush hospitality restaurants sell cocktails (including Stephen’s by Kush, Cafe Kush, Tobacco Road by Kush, and Kush Coconut Grove), but not all are big enough to sell to-go, according to the new to-law walk. Kuscher says his team is in the process of creating a takeaway cocktail menu. Now, he says, he’s not sure he can legally sell them.

Kuscher points out the obvious: The new law seems tailor-made for chain restaurants.

“Local places in Miami generally aren’t that big,” he says. “Really, it’s going to be all about chains selling sugary margarita beverages. That goes against the purpose of allowing restaurants to sell take-away cocktails.”

FRLA’s Samantha Padgett says passing new laws regarding alcohol use and distribution is usually a thorny process. Your agency has teamed up with Uber and Anheuser-Busch to campaign for the bill.

“Without COVID,” she says, “that would never have happened. We presented it as a question of survival for restaurants and we found an enormous cooperation.”

Padgett says the FRLA met with opposition when it tried to reduce restaurant size restrictions.

“We said let’s not argue about it now,” she says.

Aniece Meinhold, co-owner of Phuc Yea in Miami’s MiMo District, says her restaurant is too small to meet the capacity requirements of the new law. Even if she did, she adds, she wouldn’t think of selling take-away cocktails.

“It doesn’t make sense to us. Our cocktails are freshly prepared, so if you don’t consume them on the day of sale, they won’t taste that good, ”says Meinhold. “It is impossible to meet customer expectations once an item has left our restaurant. At this point, I would prefer people to come and see Phuc Yea in person.”

Wynwood’s R House is hitting the 150-seat threshold, and partner Owen Bale says he will consider adding take-away cocktails to the menu for much-needed revenue after the pandemic.

“Yes, Miami is busy and the restaurants are doing a lot better, but we’re still making up for lost time,” Bale told the New Times. “Every little bit helps bring us back to where we should be.”

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