Robert Russell: About Cups
We all know that special bar or restaurant that will serve you a drink in a takeaway cup and let you hang out with it, whether it’s legal or not.
New Orleans is the center of the beverage-to-go universe. At Pat O’Brien, you can take your Hurricane in a large mug or buy the glass the drink is in and walk straight out the door. Most bars and restaurants in the French Quarter observe this tradition.
Many LSU fans remember a game a few years ago at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the mayor wanted to crack down on the go cups and loud parties. You could have a drink with a group, but you couldn’t bring that same drink across the street to another party. Let’s just say that many LSU fans didn’t make it to the game and their husbands and wives had to bond with them afterward.
The police station was like an LSU meeting; I don’t know if the policy is still in place, but many will never return to this place, it is predicted. With COVID, many states have relaxed regulations. In New York, restaurants closed for a while and one of their lifelines allowed them to sell drinks out of service windows, many of which hadn’t been used for years.
To-go cocktails provided much-needed revenue for businesses on the verge of bankruptcy. At first, at least 35 states relaxed regulations, an increase of 400%. Michigan’s law is expected to remain in effect until the end of 2025. This, along with curbside meal delivery to pedestrians and motorists, has provided needed cash. Many places allowed the sale of whole bottles of wine, beer, and whiskey. Some restaurants with extensive wine and liquor lists have sold off most of their high-value collections, so they can keep paying their employees.
According to Wine Spectator, sales at high-end restaurants like Barolo Grill in suburban Denver have implemented take-out orders of wine, liquor and beer. This increased sales by 40% in March 2020, and it eventually stabilized around 20% in about a month.
In New York, sales at the Anfora wine bar on 8th Avenue near the Whitney Museum increased by 10-30%. Many restaurants, especially those that were wine-focused, used virtual tastings and classes, in addition to stock clearance. Wine-loving restaurants had advantages over retailers.
Restaurants with strong wine programs, in major markets, typically source rare, highly allocated wines not available to retailers. Thus, what the government gives, it can also take back. In New York, take-out has been so successful that the legislator will extend these practices indefinitely.
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However, after months of trial and error, no such legislation has been passed. Liquor store and distributor lobbyists have overwhelmed the restaurant industry with tons of cold hard cash for politicians. The new governor, Kathy Hochul, and the legislature are planning to run another race right now. Many are hoping the restaurant lobby can compete this time around because with consumer support the legislation should have been a sure winner last year.
As we probably know in New York, politics can be a frustrating game to follow. Not just a catchy saying, “Keep your friend close and your enemy close” is Chinese, since ancient times. This means keeping an eye on your opponent’s activities and anticipating their battle strategy.
Another state that was a bit out of step was Pennsylvania. They have closed state-owned stores and during the pandemic that has paved the way for all sorts of ragtag activity. There were instances of smuggling, and those who lived within 100 miles of state lines moved to fill their wine cellars and liquor cellars.
Some of the surrounding states like Ohio and West Virginia, tired of the hordes of visitors, have enacted laws that only state residents can buy alcohol in their stores, which is probably not legal, but things like that can take years to sort out. Of course, Direct to Consumer, or DTC has thrived during the lockdown.
As many states attempt to revive their economies, they must examine the mistakes made that have instead exacerbated the problems caused by laws passed willy-nilly. Locally in the Bossier City East Bank district, the city council approved a go-cup ordinance in early 2018, but the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board later informed them that the only place you can go is a place with a cup is a bar, not a restaurant. How does something like this become law, probably a lot of hard cash for politicians?
Stay healthy and cheers!
You can contact Robert Russell at [email protected]