UPDATED: April 17 the Minnesota Senate voted 65-2 to pass a bill allowing restaurants offering takeout during the pandemic to sell beer or wine. The bill went to the House on the 18th where it is passed as expected and Governor Walz, who had already expressed a willingness to approve it, signed it in as a temporarty measure.
The measure has been one that Hospitality Minnesota has been lobbying for, along with restaurant owners. Brent Frederick, CEO and owner of Jester Concepts with concepts such as Borough, PS Steak and Monello, who spearheaded the project, wasn’t as elated as he’d hoped to be when he heard the news.
"I think the words I have is ‘something is better than nothing,’" he said. "Beer and wine is fine, but our restaurant in particular is spirits, so that was a little bit of a downer."
That’s not to say he’s not grateful, he quickly added, however, "cocktails have always been a part of the discussion, and the beer and wine carve-out has never been on the table. I just wish we’d had a few more conversations about why it’s safe (to sell cocktails in kits)."
Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said the organization pushed in collaboration with the Craft Brewer’s Guild for a much broader bill to include craft beer and distilled spirits to provide a larger revenue opportunity. "Where things landed is a step in the right direction and offers increased sales for our restaurant operations," she said. "We continue to hear from operators who indicate this may be the difference between whether their businesses make it or not. Adding alcohol-to-go provides one more tool in the toolbox."
Beer and wine must be sold in its original, unopened packaging, according to the draft bill, and no more than 72 ounces of malt liquor or hard cider and 750 milliliters of wine. Another requirement is that it must accompany a food order and the deliverer of the food must check to see that the recipient is at least 21 years old.
The challenge for a restaurant selling beer and wine with their takeout is that they now will have to compete with liquor stores on pricing, a negative that Randy Stanley, who owns two upscale restaurants, 6Smith and Baldamar, expressed on a phone call with restaurant owners earlier in the week. While every dollar helps, it won't up the revenues anywhere near to pre-COVID-19 levels.
People who want the convenience of having a beer with their Borough burger or a bottle of wine may still order it from the restaurant, Frederick said, but he can’t imagine spending the extra money very often when you can get it from a liquor store cheaper.
On the bright side, he added, it’s an opportunity to also move some of their existing inventory. So the best scenario right now is that "we deplete our resources, and are able to buy more—our vendors need money, too," he said.
Liquor stores aren’t their only competition, however, breweries are starting to deliver their crowers and growlers to stay-at-homers.
Paul Vogelman of Caviar, a third-party delivery company, said their clients in New York and California, where loosened restrictions on alcohol sales for delivery/takeout already have been in place for awhile, are seeing a lot of demand. Because restaurants can add to the wholesale price they pay, they should be able to compete with liquor stores and still make a decent profit, he said. He doesn’t, however, see it as a silver bullet for the industry, since most customers are going to delivery for the food. His one caveat is for restaurant owners to be cognizant of the liability of selling alcohol to someone underage. That is not worth a couple of extra bucks.
The bill was signed on Friday and by the night, Red Rabbit in the North Loop was already had several bottles of wine bagged and waiting to go out with their food deliveries. Government may move slowly, but the restaurant industry is quick as a bunny.