Ordering a drink with your take-out meal — a margarita from Casa Blanca in North Andover, maybe, or the “Somewhat Damaged” martini from Ledger in Salem — is a welcome advent of the pandemic. Long after COVID-19 is a distant memory, one imagines its role in inspiring drinks-to-go as the topic of a trivia question.
We can only hope. Right now, the state’s package store lobby stands in the way. Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, gives it credit for blocking her first attempt to extend drinks to-go beyond a retirement date looming in mid-August, or 60 days after Gov. Charlie Baker’s state of emergency for the pandemic expires on June 15.
Lawmakers get served another chance to save drink delivery tomorrow. The Senate is scheduled to debate a bill that extends to-go cocktails and some other pandemic policies, such as allowing restaurants to seat and serve customers outdoors. Under the Senate bill, to-go drinks will be allowed at least through next February, almost getting us through winter. Relaxed rules on outdoor dining would be allowed through March.
The convenience this brings to people ordering takeout, at least those who like a drink with their meal, should go without saying. The bigger advantage is for a restaurant industry still recovering from the forced starvation imposed by COVID-19 era closures. Potentially sending out drinks with dinner not only makes restaurant menus more appetizing, the high margins on individual drinks are beneficial to the bottom line.
Owners of package stores don’t see it the same way. And to be sure, their would-be customers won't have to swing by the neighborhood packie for a bottle of wine when they pick up Friday evening’s takeout if they can get a couple of to-go glasses with dinner.
But that's a thin slice of business. “Do we really believe that? Are we that out of touch?” DiZoglio asked in an interview with reporter Bill Kirk. “I get it — the lobbyists are doing their job, pushing for their constituents. But give me a break. You’re going to tell me doing a couple of specialty cocktails is crushing the package store industry?”
DiZoglio, who tried to give life to to-go cocktails beyond the pandemic with an ill-fated budget amendment, is right. Benefits to diners and the state’s important food and beverage businesses are clear and supported by evidence from take-out operations during the pandemic. And fears that cocktails-to-go will somehow get passed into the hands of underage drinkers neglects the ability of responsible restauranteurs -- whose alcohol licenses are at stake -- to sniff out a teenager trying to pull a fast one.
Beacon Hill will get another shot at drinks-to-go. We’re looking to our lawmakers to order another round.