Bill would keep to-go cocktails on the menu in Vermont

In Vermont, customers can buy a cocktail with their takeout order at a restaurant, for now.
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 5:45 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s a push to keep cocktails on the menu with takeout orders from Vermont restaurants.

During the pandemic in 2020, the state started allowing takeout cocktails but that permission is set to expire on July 1.

A bill in Montpelier would change that. If signed into law, the end date would be gone and the statute would permanently allow the sale of cocktails to go.

Businesses said they’d love to see takeout drinks stick around.

El Gato Cantina General Manager Courtney Rice says adding to-go cocktails to pandemic orders was a lifesaver.

“It’s still very popular, obviously not as popular as during COVID when people would come into the restaurant, but I would say probably 80% of our takeouts get some sort of alcohol,” said Rice.

She said the option helps offset costs like labor.

“With rising food costs anything to move sales is good,” said Rice.

At Barr Hill in Montpelier, to-go cocktails inspired a new business venture.

“One cocktail that we had during the pandemic was our can Gin and Tonic. And now that’s actually a cocktail that we’re going to be releasing into distribution,” said Harry Kahn with Barr Hill.

Kahn says customers have grown to expect to buy drinks to-go, an element of their business they’d like to keep.

Participating businesses follow a strict protocol to ensure customers don’t drink and drive.

“Our to-go cocktails are sealed, and they’re actually dipped in beeswax as well. So you can tell if they have been open. So we ask obviously that everyone not open their to-go cocktail until they arrive at home,” said Kahn.

The efforts appear to have worked. A Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery report showed the program didn’t result in public safety or compliance issues.

That’s true for South Burlington, where police Chief Shawn Burke says to-go cocktails haven’t caused any problems. However, the bill proposes a study of the impacts of to go alcohol.

“It is important when you look at the data related to those highway fatalities, and a number of those involve alcohol, drugs and their lack of safety belt, so I do think it’s smart that there’s going to be a study committee, but we haven’t seen anything directly in our work,” Burke said.

Statewide, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce said while to-go cocktails aren’t always a significant line of business, it’s an important one for those who participate. But without the regulation permanent, not everyone has gotten on board yet.

“There is a cost of running a program like this. So some have decided until there’s a repeal of the sunset, for example, that they didn’t want to invest all the time and resources into creating this program,” said Amy Spear of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

This is a national conversation as 18 states and Washington, D.C., have taken cocktail pandemic regulations and made them law. This bill passed the House and now sits in the Senate for consideration.