One of the biggest industries hit during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that of food and entertainment. In a crisis that required social distancing, social gathering came to a stand still. In a state like Florida, where tourism is key, many struggled to uphold the normalcy of everyday life without the ability to eat and drink in public with friends and family. Many restaurants and bars had to cut staff, and that was if they were lucky enough to stay open in the first place. Not only was it difficult to find ways to make business happen, but it was hard to compete with relief money when the businesses themselves were not bringing in enough revenue to pay regular wages to their employees. One of the most creative ways businesses fought to stay afloat was to take advantage of a law that allowed them to offer to-go alcohol for a temporary amount of time. However, it appears this offering is here to stay permanently with the bill signed by Governor DeSantis this month that allows to-go sales of alcohol by restaurants.
The Pandemic Background of the Bill
Back in March of 2020, DeSantis made a temporary exception to the rule and allowed alcohol to be sold to-go by restaurants, but there were some concessions. This was mostly an effort to help support suffering businesses during a historically difficult time. The major text of Executive Order 20-71 reads as follows:
Section 1. Alcohol Sales.
- I hereby order all vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink or in sealed containers for consumption on the premises. Such vendors may continue to sell alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for consumption off-premises.
- The restriction in section 561.20(2)(a)4., Florida Statutes, prohibiting a specially licensed food service establishment from selling package sales of alcohol for delivery, take-out or consumption off-premises is suspended for restaurants complying with Executive Order 20-68, through the expiration of the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 20-52, including any extensions, so long as the following conditions are met:
- Any sale of an alcoholic beverage in a sealed container for consumption off-premises is accompanied by the sale of food within the same order; and
- Any delivery of an alcoholic beverage complies with section 561.57, Florida Statutes.
The Overview of Senate Bill 148
After much success of the temporary allowance, Senate Bill 148 was signed into law this month to continue the same process. Effective July 1, 2021, restaurants will permanently be allowed to deliver and sell to-go alcoholic beverages that are sealed. This includes vendors of alcoholic drinks as long as they also hold a license to publicly sell food.
Senate Bill 148
Beverage Law; Authorizing certain food service establishments to sell or deliver certain alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption under certain circumstances; revising provisions that authorize a restaurant to allow patrons to remove partially consumed bottles of wine from a restaurant for off-premises consumption; revising requirements for the sale of alcoholic beverages by certain vendors; authorizing certain vendors to deliver specified alcoholic beverages under certain circumstances; specifying that certain alcoholic beverages are not open containers for the purposes of the prohibition on possessing open containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles, etc.
Proponents of the bill are thrilled to see how this will contribute to the economy of the state. Governor DeSantis stated:
“Alcoholic drinks to-go became an important source of revenue for restaurants that were trying to survive during the pandemic. This law is an important measure to continue the positive economic impacts of a temporary order. I want to thank the Legislature, but particularly Senator Jennifer Bradley and Representative Josie Tomkow, for being ready and willing to create common sense reforms that got government out of the way and increased opportunity for Florida businesses.”
DBPR Secretary Julie I. Brown shared a similar sentiment:
“I applaud Governor DeSantis on signing this historic piece of legislation that will greatly benefit our bar and restaurant license holders throughout the state. The law allows businesses to meet customer needs by providing the ability and convenience of serving alcohol-to-go, and I am pleased that Florida is actively adapting to meet the evolving customer and business needs in the industry.”
Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) explained:
“Florida's restaurants were some of the businesses hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. With indoor dining shut down, our operators had to get creative at ways to keep revenue coming in and their staff employed. Thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order, many restaurants were saved from closing through their ability to sell alcohol with to-go orders for off-premises consumption. With the Governor now signing alcohol-to-go into law, our restaurants can continue to count on this source of revenue as they provide excellent meals and beverages for their customers.”
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Laws are constantly changing, and it is up to you to make yourself as knowledgeable of these changes as you can. However, a trusted attorney can help you navigate these waters. Contact us today at Keller, Melchiorre & Walsh if you have any questions regarding this bill or others. Our experienced team is ready to fight for you and your needs.