The Georgia Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities on Monday, March 1, unanimously passed SB 236, a bill that would make to-go cocktails from restaurants legal in Georgia. SB 236 then moved to the senate floor where its merits were debated. The bill was backed by the state senate, 36 to 10. It now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives for consideration.
If passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, Georgia would join states like Pennsylvania and Michigan which permanently legalized to-go cocktails last year in an effort to continue supporting the restaurant industry during and after the pandemic. Restaurants would be able to sell up to two cocktails per takeout “entree ordered” to go in approved sealed containers. Patrons picking up to-go cocktails by car must then place these drinks in the glove box, locked trunk, or in the last seat in the back of a vehicle without a trunk.
Many cities across the state, including Atlanta, continue to temporarily permit restaurants and bars to sell unopened bottles and cans of wine and beer for takeout. Allowing restaurants to legally sell to-go cocktails offers these businesses a chance to capture even higher profit margins.
“It’s been a long time coming. Georgia is decades behind other states with this legislation, but I’m happy to see it moving forward,” chef Josh Lee of Soul: Food and Culture and Lake and Oak Neighborhood BBQ tells Eater. “Given that the food and beverage industry here in Atlanta is still relying on to-go options for about 90 percent of the profits, these cocktail sales drive up the bottom line.”
Chef Jarrett Stieber opened his Summerhill restaurant Little Bear last February, just two weeks prior to the start of the pandemic. Dining room service ceased at the restaurant in mid-March and Stieber and his team have relied on takeout to stay afloat since then. This includes offering cocktails for consumption in seating areas on sidewalks and common areas along a two-block stretch of Georgia Avenue in the neighborhood.
“This would be an enormous help to businesses if it passes. Selling cocktails to go, in particular, has the potential to be most helpful since restaurants have better margins on cocktails than wine and customers are more interested in takeout cocktails since it’s less likely to be something they can recreate easily at home versus opening a bottle of wine or can of beer,” he says.
In an effort to support local restaurant communities, cities like Marietta, Decatur, Dunwoody, Canton, Smyrna, Powder Springs, Kennesaw, and Acworth recently established entertainment districts with open container policies. Restaurants and bars in these cities are allowed to sell beer, wine, and cocktails to go for off-premises consumption within designated areas.
Over the last decade, Georgia has also begun to update its antiquated state alcohol laws, including permitting Sunday retail alcohol sales, allowing the sale of alcohol from restaurants on Sundays starting at 11:30 a.m., and permitting limited direct sales from the state’s breweries and distilleries.
Home delivery of beer, wine, and liquor from restaurants, bars, convenience stores, some package and retail stores, and grocery stores became legal in Georgia late last year. The new law currently excludes the state’s breweries and distilleries. This, too, is expected to change as the state continues amending laws surrounding the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol.
“It would be fantastic for restaurants as we attempt to recover from this year-long ordeal,” says Federico Castellucci, president of Atlanta-based Castellucci Hospitality Group. “Any incremental revenue stream is a welcome addition, but moreover, anytime we can extend hospitality beyond our doors everyone wins.”
Read the full language for SB 236 below: