Virginia Lawmakers Say Yes to Cocktails To-Go

By: - February 17, 2021 12:00 am

A drinks-to-go table is set up outside the Old Crow bar in Dallas, Texas. More than 30 states have allowed restaurants to sell cocktails for pickup or delivery during the pandemic. Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press

The Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill that would allow restaurants, bars and distilleries to offer cocktails to-go.

The measure, which would be effective until July 1, 2022, won unanimous approval in the Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who already had issued an executive order in April temporarily allowing the practice.

The idea is to support businesses that are struggling to cope with the harsh economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and make it more convenient for customers to either take out drinks or have them delivered.

“Cocktails to-go have provided much-needed revenue for Virginia’s hospitality businesses and helped many of them survive during the pandemic,” David Wojnar, a senior vice president at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said in a press release.

“Unfortunately, Virginia’s distilleries, restaurants and bars have a long way to go before things are completely back to normal.”

Virginia is one of at least at least 32 states that have decided during the pandemic to allow cocktails-to-go in some form, according to Mike Whatley, a vice president at the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group.

Iowa and Ohio both have made cocktails to-go permanent and more than 20 other states are considering allowing, extending or making the practice permanent, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, a trade group that represents alcohol producers and marketers.

In late December, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order authorizing to-go sales in his state, and the Oregon legislature approved a bill that Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed into law.

Some health care advocates oppose the practice, saying it makes alcohol more easily available during the pandemic and could lead to increased substance use disorder and underage drinking.

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.