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Massachusetts Bars and Restaurants Can Finally Sell Cocktails to Go (for Now)

The new provision, active during Massachusetts’ state of emergency, builds on current legislation that allows bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout and delivery orders

Four clear glass bottles of cocktails in a row, with names like Bijou and Manitoba printed on their labels
Bottled cocktails from Vincent’s Corner Grocery (formerly known as Cafe du Pays) in Cambridge
Vincent’s Corner Grocery/Instagram

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill on July 20 allowing bars and restaurants in the state to sell to-go cocktails with takeout and delivery food orders. The allowance will last until Baker lifts Massachusetts’ state of emergency, which was enacted on March 10, 2020, in response to the pandemic.

The bill allows customers to order two cocktails per entree, and it caps the total volume customers can order at 64 liquid ounces. The cocktails must be sold in a sealed container, and the volume of alcohol to mixer must be the same as for on-premises consumption. (Bars and restaurants can’t just dump 64 ounces of vodka into a Tupperware and sell it to someone picking up a burrito, for example.)

The Massachusetts Senate voted last week to pass its version of the bill (Senate Bill 2812), while the House of Representatives voted more than a month ago to pass an even more expansive version of the bill (House Bill 4774, otherwise known as the Restaurant Relief Act).

The House’s bill — which also included the to-go cocktails provision — proposed expediting the process associated with outdoor dining permitting, removing interest and penalties restaurants may incur by failing to pay state meals taxes on time through the end of 2020, and capping third-party delivery fees at 15 percent. For now, the Senate and House have compromised on the to-go cocktails provision.

The new provision builds on legislation passed earlier this year that allows bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout and delivery orders.

Bar and restaurant operators aren’t the only people who lobbied for their ability to sell to-go cocktails: The Massachusetts Distillers Association sent a letter to several of the state’s top lawmakers in April requesting, among other things, that the legislature allow bars and restaurants to sell to-go cocktails in secure containers.

Gov. Baker’s allowance is good for bars, restaurants, distillers, and drinkers, but it’s unlikely to please the Massachusetts Package Stores Association. The nonprofit trade organization, which represents thousands of independent liquor stores in the state, recently lobbied lawmakers in an attempt to thwart the Restaurant Relief Act’s passage.

MPSA executive director Rob Mellion sent state senators a letter on June 30 claiming that allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go as a means by which to offset economic losses due to the pandemic would be like “opening Pandora’s box to making the privilege permanent.” Mellion and the MPSA fear that the temporary provision will become permanent law, which could depress longterm revenues for independent package store owners.

The MPSA’s lobbying and reservations notwithstanding, bars and restaurants are free to sell to-go cocktails — at least for now.

Massachusetts May Soon Allow Restaurants to Sell Cocktails To Go [ML]
Restaurant Relief Bill Moves Forward on Beacon Hill [BG]
Massachusetts Bars and Restaurants Can Now Sell Beer and Wine With Takeout and Delivery Orders [EBOS]
Massachusetts Distillers Want to Deliver During the Pandemic [EBOS]
Massachusetts Package Stores Support Restaurant Relief — But Not If It Threatens Package Stores [EBOS]