The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control on Thursday (March 19) issued a rule allowing restaurants and microbrewery restaurants to sell beer and wine for off-site consumption with the purchase of food. However, the new rule does not include the sale of mixed-drinks.
The rule is in place for 30 days.
“Restaurants and Microbrewery Restaurants (hereafter referred to as “restaurants”) licensed to sell beer and wine under any permit issued by the Alcoholic Beverage Control may sell corked or sealed bottles of wine with the purchase of food, consistent with their existing ability to allow a patron to take home an unfinished bottle of wine purchased with food,” noted a portion of the new rule. “Restaurants may also include beer and wine with delivery of food items. Restaurants shall not sell any spirituous liquor to go or for delivery. Restaurants may sell mixers and set-ups.”
Prior to Thursday’s ruling, an effort was underway in Arkansas for the state to temporarily allow restaurants to sell beer, wine and by the glass mixed-drinks in sealed containers for off-site consumption.
The attempt to change the regulations is in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Americans are being urged to stay home and avoid large gatherings to limit the spread of the virus. The warnings have been particularly severe on restaurant owners, who are taking a considerable financial hit with a shortage of patrons.
Several states have ordered restaurants and bars closed to help slow the spread of the virus. Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have recently provided temporary waivers allowing restaurants and bars to serve alcohol for off-site consumption.
“The State of Texas is committed to supporting retailers, restaurants, and their employees,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “These waivers will allow restaurants to provide enhanced delivery options to consumers during this temporary period of social distancing.”
On Thursday afternoon, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered dine-in service closed at all Arkansas restaurants and bars.
Restaurant owners are maneuvering their operations in order to try and minimize the financial loss. That means keeping their kitchens open, and offering food through delivery, curb-side pickup or drive thru-service.
Owners of Yellow Rocket Concepts, a restaurant holding company based in Little Rock with restaurants in central and Northwest Arkansas, are some of those in the business seeking the change in Arkansas. According to Yellow Rocket, mixed drinks account for as much as 30% of sales in its restaurants.
“Mixed beverages and the sharing of cocktails with friends also have a ripple effect on food sales that cannot be discounted. Lingering over appetizers and desserts and spending social time at the bar with snacks increases food sales as well as earned wage revenue for our staff through tipping,” executive chef and Yellow Rocket Concepts co-founder Scott McGehee said in a statement. “The loss of this revenue is devastating and has put us into a state of emergency. The temporary emergency allowance of sales of unopened and sealed containers ‘to-go’ mixed drinks delivered curb-side would give us a viable shot at being able to continue to pay our staff and keep our doors open during a time we are being required to shutter our dining spaces. We have chosen to support our state in its efforts to fight this pandemic by closing our dining rooms and we hope our state will support us in our effort to survive under these circumstances.”
The restaurant owners behind the push stress they are not seeking to compete with liquor stores. For example, the temporary waiver in Alabama allows a restaurant or bar to only sell one 750 milliliter bottle of liquor, one 750 milliliter bottle of wine or one 750 milliliter pack of beer per customer. The waiver in Texas allows the sale of mixed-drinks and other alcohol for off-site consumption only if food is included in the purchase.
McGehee welcomed the new rule, but adding mixed drinks will further help businesses in the struggling sector.
”The allowance of beer and wine to go or for delivery was a step in the right direction. However, 80% of that 30% of sales that alcoholic beverages constitutes for us is mixed beverages/spirits. Mixed Drinks/Cocktails that we create are signature items that are a point of differentiation and traffic driver for us. Although it will certainly be convenient for our guests to pickup beer and wine with their order, beer and wine are products that come to us pre-made and that are widely available everywhere. The allowance of mixed drinks would drive guests who enjoy our cocktail menus to our stores specifically.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, there were 5,288 eating and drinking establishments in Arkansas in 2018, the latest data available. Restaurants in Arkansas accounted for $4.9 billion in sales in 2018, and restaurant and foodservice companies employed 121,100.