“Alcohol to go” may become a permanent offering from restaurants and other specific food establishments in Florida, if bills filed Friday are passed during the next Florida legislative session in March.
At the beginning of the pandemic this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis included what he called “alcohol to go” in an executive order to provide an additional source of revenue for restaurants slammed by mandated closures and scaled back operating rules. Many of them were forced to rely on take-out orders to survive. Adding alcohol gave a much-needed boost to restaurateurs’ strained bottom line.
Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed two bills Friday, SB 134 and SB 142, authorizing, among other things, certain food service establishments to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption if specified requirements are met.
They also revised provisions that authorize a restaurant to allow patrons to remove partially consumed bottles of wine from a restaurant for off-premises consumption.
Senator Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed a separate bill, SB 148, which also authorizes the sell or delivery of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption.
Brandes reportedly recognized the success of DeSantis’ executive order in helping businesses survive the pandemic and thought it should become permanent.
While at first glance, allowing patrons to take an unfinished bottle of wine home with them after a meal, appears to ease Florida’s open container laws, Brandes’ bill spells out strict guidelines for getting the bottle home. It must be closed by the restaurant staff, placed in a bag or container with the receipt and then transported either in a glove compartment or behind the front seat of the vehicle.
The proposed bills will most likely have strong support from RESET, a coalition of pro-business groups, comprised of executives from Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business Florida. A report released last week by RESET spotlighted strategies to help Florida’s COVID-19 battered economy rebound. One of its recommendations was to allow “alcohol-to-go” to continue. It described DeSantis’ executive order as “a lifeline for struggling businesses” that demonstrated some of the existing regulations surrounding alcohol “are antiquated and no longer necessary.”
FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover, said in a statement to The Capitolist, “The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association strongly supports legislation that will permit restaurants to supplement their revenue through the sale of alcohol beverages that accompany take-out food orders. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been a lifeline for many struggling businesses. Governor DeSantis’ relaxing of existing regulations has demonstrated that the sale of alcohol in this manner can be practically and safely accomplished. This important legislation will allow the process — that has been safely operating for months — to continue and will directly benefit restaurants that continue to struggle financially.”