A bill sitting on Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, if signed, would allow to-go restaurant orders for cocktails to become a permanent staple of the state’s dine-out experience.
Under SB 236, which passed with bipartisan support in the Senate and House and was sent to the governor’s office on April 7, restaurants can sell up to two cocktails per one “adult-sized” entree in individual takeout orders.
“They limited it to two drinks per entree for a reason, and that was to ensure that this new (law) would not be abused either on the restaurant side or the consumer side,” said Michael McPherson, an intergovernmental coordinator for the Georgia Municipal Association.
The language of the bill, according to McPherson, would allow to-go cocktails to be enforced similarly to how packaged beer and wine purchases from grocery stores and retailers are enforced.
According to the bill, to-go cocktails are to be packaged in specific sealed containers, cannot exceed 3 ounces of alcohol or spirits, and must be placed in the glove box, locked trunk, or in the last seat in the back of a vehicle without a trunk.
The approved containers are not allowed to have openings or straw holes and must have a label or marking that identifies the establishment that made and sold the mixed drink.
Additionally, a sale of receipt from the customer must be provided and cocktails cannot be delivered through a third-party provider such as Uber Eats or DoorDash.
Cities or counties can choose to opt out of the measure, if signed into state law.
Proponents of the bill hope the new measure could aid the state’s restaurant industry, which was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Georgia Restaurant Association played a role in introducing and advocating for the bill in an effort to help restaurants recover from revenue losses suffered during the pandemic.
“By allowing cocktails to go, restaurants that are still struggling to keep their doors open now have another opportunity to offer guests a full-service dining experience in their own homes,” said Karen Brewer, Georgia Restaurant Association president and CEO.
Legislative analysts say that if Kemp signs SB 236, it will continue Georgia’s trend of loosening restrictions on its more previously stringent state alcohol laws.
Georgia, historically, has operated on a three-tier system for the retail and sale of alcohol, McPherson explained.
The three-tier system allowed alcohol producers to sell their goods to wholesalers who were limited to selling to retailers, the only places from which Georgians previously had been allowed to purchase alcohol.
In the last decade and a half, the state relaxed its alcohol laws.
Georgia didn’t allow for beer containing more than 6% alcohol by volume to be purchased or produced until 2004. In 2011, retailers were allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays.
In 2017, Georgia joined the rest of the nation in allowing breweries and distilleries to make local sales.
“It’s been a sweep of changes that have come over the last decade that has allowed Georgia to become a better market for breweries and alcohol producers and retailers,” said McPherson.
Recent legislative efforts include allowing restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks on Sundays starting at 11:30 a.m. and the delivery of beer, wine and liquor from certain businesses, which happened during the 2020 Georgia legislative session.
“As other states around Georgia start adopting more flexible alcohol laws, it’s been a legislative effort to modernize their laws and meet a more convenient demand from its residents,” McPherson said. “It’s an interesting bill to follow, if it gets signed, because I think there will be a lot for different counties and cities to consider.”
Locally, some municipalities also have relaxed alcohol ordinances.
In February, the city of Gainesville altered its alcohol ordinance, reflecting state law, to allow home delivery of alcoholic beverages within city limits. That’s one in a string of changes for Hall County’s largest city, which includes a dining district where alcoholic drinks can be taken outside of restaurants, and saw changes in recent years to allow for growler shops and a distillery.
In the city of Lula, its planning commission has discussed amending zoning laws to allow breweries to set up shop in its city limits.
To-go cocktails became a steady business model for restaurants during the past year of restricted dine-in options, with 30 states allowing restaurants to provide to-go cocktail service. Five states -- Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Florida and Oklahoma -- and the District of Columbia have made cocktails to go permanent.
“This particular to-go mixed drink issue is more related to the pandemic more than anything else,” said McPherson. “But these series of legislative decisions, which also include the alcohol delivery bill from last year’s session, only helps and encourages the alcohol market to thrive in Georgia.”
McPherson noted that SB 236 isn’t the only alcohol-related bill awaiting the governor’s signature.
Senate Bill 219 would allow breweries to transfer beer between locations and increase the amount of beer that breweries can directly sell to customers. The bill would apply more to the state’s larger breweries and distilleries rather than local brewpubs.