It’s official: to-go cocktails are now legal from restaurants and bars in Georgia.
After passing the General Assembly in March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 236 into law on Wednesday, green-lighting to-go cocktails from restaurants and bars across the state. As with other restaurant-related alcohol legislation in Georgia, local municipalities can opt out of the to-go cocktail allowance.
Restaurants and bars with a valid food service permit and license to serve distilled spirits are allowed to sell up to two cocktails per takeout entree ordered in approved, sealed containers. Cocktails must be made the same day the drinks are ordered and contain no more than three ounces of distilled spirits. Drinks must also be sold to and picked up by the same person who ordered, which means people can’t order to-go cocktails for delivery via third party services like UberEats, Zifty, or Postmates. Patrons picking up their 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.
“As the restaurant industry has had to quickly pivot to stay in business and meet consumer demand, takeout and curbside pickup have become wonderful options for our guests to support their favorite restaurant and dine at home,” Georgia Restaurant Association president Karen Bremer says.
Chef Jarrett Stieber, who just reopened his Summerhill restaurant Little Bear for dine-in service after closing the dining room last March, relied on takeout for over a year to stay afloat. This included offering cocktails for consumption in seating areas along a two-block stretch of Georgia Avenue in the neighborhood.
“Selling cocktails to go 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,” Stieber recently told Eater of the financial impact the bill’s passage would have on restaurants.
Little Spirit owner Randy Pechin closed his Inman Park cocktail bar for several weeks at the start of the pandemic, before reopening last summer with limited capacity. Despite being allowed by the state to operate at full capacity, he’s still running Little Spirit at just under 50-percent capacity inside. The intimate cocktail bar normally seats between 20 to 25 people. Earlier this month, Pechin added a walk-up window called Sideshow selling to-go cocktails and alcoholic and non-alcoholic shaved ice along with hot dogs and food specials in collaboration with local chefs and restaurants.
“With Sideshow at Little Spirit, we can serve guests that are enjoying the common area spaces at Inman Quarter where there has been a lot of additional seating added since the beginning of the pandemic,” he told Eater of the walk-up window.
Chef Josh Lee of Soul: Food and Culture and Lake and Oak Neighborhood BBQ said in March the passage of the to-go cocktail bill has been a “long time coming,” stating that cocktails sales help boost the bottom line for many restaurants.
Several cities throughout metro Atlanta now have established open-container entertainment districts and policies in place, including Marietta, Dunwoody, Canton, Smyrna, Powder Springs, Decatur, Kennesaw, and Acworth.
Georgia joins over 30 states allowing to-go cocktails from restaurants and bars. Many states fast-tracked this legislation last year during the height of the pandemic and dining room closures. Permitting restaurants to legally sell to-go cocktails offers these businesses a chance to capture even higher profit margins from the sale of alcohol, something many restaurants and bars are in desperate need of following a devastating year financially.
Over the last decade, Georgia has slowly begun to update its antiquated alcohol laws, which now include Sunday retail alcohol sales, the sale of alcohol from restaurants on Sundays starting at 11:30 a.m., and limited direct sales from the state’s breweries and distilleries.
Home delivery of beer, wine, and liquor from restaurants, bars, some package and retail stores, and grocery stores became legal in Georgia late last year. The 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.