RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A bipartisan bill extending to-go cocktails until July 2024 is headed for Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk. Lawmakers are considering making the pandemic-era policy permanent but issues with underage sales are giving them pause.
Since April 2020, restaurants with a liquor license have been able to offer four mixed drinks per takeout or delivery order. Each order must include one meal for every two cocktails purchased. The policy was previously set to expire July 1, 2022.
Del. David Bulova, who sponsored the House bill, said he was skeptical of the idea at first but good reviews from constituents and businesses changed his mind.
“We want to make sure that we can continue this program but we do want to make sure there are guardrails on it that are appropriate and that we’re doing it safely,” Bulova said.
After convening a stakeholder group to study the issue, agents with the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority uncovered a problem with third party delivery services.
Of the 70 orders placed by underage customers under the supervision of agents, 52 were completed and a sale was made in 32 instances, according to Virginia ABC’s report. In 23 of those situations an ID was never requested. Other times an ID was requested but the sale was made regardless.
There were also times when cocktails were delivered without food and more than four drinks were ordered.
“One delivered shots of liquor, which is not allowed, but provided a bowl of chili to attempt compliance with the food requirement,” the report furthers.
Bulova said his bill attempts to address this issue by creating a permitting process for these third party delivery services and penalties for violators. He said this has also been an issue with the delivery of beer and wine.
“There was no skin in the game for the third party delivery service and that’s not fair to the restaurant quite honestly,” Bulova said. “This way we just make sure that the liability is where the liability ought to be, and that’s the person who is actually delivering the cocktail.”
The report says the most commonly used service was DoorDash, followed by Chop Chop, Instacart, Grubhub, Chow Now, Uber Eats, Caviar, and Beyond Menu.
The bill also bans deliveries to college dorm rooms and prisons.
Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) President and CEO Kurt Gregory Erickson said there is no evidence that to-go cocktails have led to an increase in drunk driving, though it’s possible that information could be collected if the state begins recording “place of last drink” in these cases.
“There is no data to show any nexus between a Wild West environment that people feared might happen,” Erickson said.
Bulova said his bill sets stricter rules for the sealing of these drinks. The cocktails must be in a container with no openings and “sealed in a manner that allows a person to readily discern whether the container has been opened or tampered with.”
Drivers must store them in the trunk of their car, out of reach behind the front seat or in a locked container.
Kait Bruder, a bartender at Bar Solita in Richmond, hopes to-go cocktails will become a permanent fixture in Virginia after the change helped boost revenue during pandemic shutdowns.
“Being able to send out our drinks was special for us because we do take pride in the cocktails we create for our customers,” Bruder said. “I think as long as people understand it’s a privilege to be able to take cocktails to go then hopefully things will work out for the best and we’ll get to keep it for the foreseeable future.”