DeSantis makes cocktails-to-go permanent in Florida

DeSantis makes cocktails-to-go permanent in Florida

To-go alcohol is here to stay with Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a bill that makes the pandemic era policy a permanent fixture.

What started out as a lifeline for restaurants and bars will now be a permanent fixture of Florida’s food and beverage scene.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed May 13 a bill that makes permanent to-go cocktails and drinks. Senate Bill 148, sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, allows bars and restaurants to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption.

DeSantis backed last year the idea of making cocktails-to-go permanent, after first including it in a March executive order – originally with the intent of opening up an extra source of revenue for bars and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure passed was passed unanimously by the Senate and with only a single dissenting vote in the House. To-go alcoholic drinks must be sealed and cannot exceed 32 ounces.

“It was a big help from the beginning,” said Victor Carranza, owner of El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant. Carranza credited to-go margaritas for boosting sales up to 30% during the pandemic.

“Now, we’ll make any cocktail on our menu to go,” Jarrett Sabatini, owner of Intermezzo Coffee and Cocktails in St. Petersburg, told ABC Action News. “When we first launched [cocktails-to-go], it was really out of necessity and the only way to get an income.”

Florida’s bar and restaurant trade groups have been supportive of the measure, seeing it as a lifeline during hard times, as well as a new source of revenue. “It was a difference-maker,” said Geoff Leubkemann, senior vice president at Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Many of our operations went down to existing on skeleton crews. This was one channel that was absolutely essential to survival.”

Others are hoping if cocktails-to-go gain momentum and become permanent, distilleries and breweries can look forward to future reforms in Tallahassee.
Priorities for brewers include legalizing consumer delivery and self-distribution. “A lot of breweries are going to start feeling a lot of pressure over the next year,” said Jose Mallea, president of Biscayne Bay Brewing Company.

More than 30 states have modernized their state laws to allow for self-distribution – allowing craft brewers to sell directly to customers instead of being forced to sell through a middleman. Florida, however, requires that all beer sold by retailers be sold through distributors.

“I think this could be a win-win for brewers and distributors. Legalizing self-distribution would give the smaller brewers more opportunity and room to grow,” Mallea added. “That makes it more likely they can achieve the volume that distributors look for in new partners.”

Permanent cocktails-to-go are a great step toward greater economic freedom for Florida’s business owners and consumers. Lawmakers should look further to loosening up alcohol regulations in Florida. With Florida’s economy booming, less arcane regulation would open the door for many startup craft brewers trying to break into the market while giving critical breathing room to many struggling to sell their product.


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