Laughlin Seeks Permanent Cocktails-to-Go Sales for Bars, Restaurants

HARRISBURG – Many small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lot – such as our restaurants and bars – continue to struggle.

“Since these establishments still need help, I, along with Sen. John Yudichak, have introduced Senate Bill 1138 to permanently allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, the bill’s prime sponsor.

Earlier during the pandemic, as part of efforts to address the impacts of the governor’s COVID emergency declaration, the ability to sell cocktails-to-go by bars and restaurants was temporarily granted to give them a new source of revenue.

During a recent hearing conducted by the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee, statewide business advocates and entrepreneurs told lawmakers that recovery has not started for many small businesses.

“A January 2022 National Restaurant Association operator impact survey showed that 76 percent of restaurant operators have lower sales volume now than they did prior to the pandemic. Unpredictability has plagued the industry for 20 months and recovery will likely take years,” said Lauren Brinjac, senior director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA). “In 2020, the state allowed for the temporary sale of mixed drinks to-go and we saw then that Pennsylvanians love having that choice and it helps bars and restaurants.”

“While cocktails-to-go served as a lifeline during the COVID-19 emergency declaration, it also provided a way for family-owned establishments to expand their product offerings and increase customer convenience,” added Chuck Moran, executive director for Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA). “Unfortunately, the end of the emergency declaration also meant the end to these products. This was a loss to both our industry and our patrons.”

“This legislation will give restaurants and bars an opportunity to maintain cash flow and expand offerings, aiding them in their recovery,” Sen. Laughlin said.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 33 states adopted alcohol-to-go programs in the early days of COVID-19, with 16 of those states making their programs permanent, while another 15 have provided extended approval to their programs. Across Pennsylvania’s borders, New York’s governor has urged making drinks-to-go permanent, while New Jersey lawmakers approved legislation last year allowing local governments to authorize cocktails-to-go.

“By introducing SB 1138, Sens. Laughlin and Yudichak have demonstrated their concern for the future success of small business taverns, bars, and licensed restaurants,” PLBTA’s Moran said. “The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association and our members, representing tens of thousands of employees and many more patrons, thank both senators for introducing this bill.”

“It’s a win-win and PRLA is happy to hear that Sens. Yudichak and Laughlin are reviving the conversation on making the drinks permanent,” added PRLA’s Brinjac.

“We need to continue supporting our businesses in Pennsylvania, giving them additional options to help them recover and avoid permanent closure. This legislation will do that,” said Sen. Laughlin.

After its introduction, SB 1138 was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Contact:         Dawn Fidler

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