Pennsylvania restaurants and bars are always craving a comeback for “take out cocktails”


Pennsylvania restaurants and bars feel what it is like to be one of their customers waiting to be seated at a table.

Bars and restaurants across the state have been waiting for months for the legislature to pass legislation that will once again allow them to sell take-out alcoholic beverages.

Until June, a derogation from an alcohol law allowed these establishments to sell what some call “roadies” or take-away cocktails. Restaurants and bars have made money selling these drinks, which has helped to partially offset the losses suffered by the closures and restrictions placed on them as part of the COVID-mitigation strategy. 19 Governor Tom Wolf.

But they lost the temporary right to sell take-out drinks with the governor’s declaration of emergency disaster for the virus expired. And they want it back, definitely.

John Longstreet, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Lodging Association, called the legislation that would achieve this goal “a common sense and widely supported way to give the restaurant industry key tools for short-term recovery and recovery. long-term business success “.

On top of that, he said, “This is what the public wants.”

A bill passed by the House that would achieve this goal awaits action in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward of R-Westmoreland County has identified the issue as a fall priority for his chamber.

“Majority Chef Ward strongly supports take-out cocktails and al fresco dining to help struggling restaurants bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to expand consumer choice while passing legislation that Governor Wolf will sign before the end of the fall session, ”said Ward spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright.

The key words in this declaration are “the legislation that Governor Wolf will sign”.

Wolf has expressed his willingness to sign a law to permanently restore restaurants and taverns to the ability to sell take-out cocktails.

But the reason this issue is still an issue is that Wolf opposes the effort by Republican senators to pair cocktails with a growing availability of alcoholic products known as “ready-to-drink” drinks. They are now sold exclusively in state-owned Grands Vins and Bons Spiritueux stores.

When the Senate added wording to the House Takeaway Cocktail Bill last summer to allow any alcohol licensee to sell ready-to-drink liquor products, Wolf said he would veto the legislation if it reached his office.

He saw it as a step too far in expanding liquor privatization beyond what his administration allowed by opening up beer and wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores. He accused Senate Republicans of prioritizing certain special interests over the need to support the bar and restaurant industry.

So that’s where the question was left in June when lawmakers left for their summer vacation. But for restaurants and bars, it remains a priority.

As recently as this week, Sen. Mike Regan of R-Cumberland / York Counties, who has championed the addition of ready-to-drink to the House’s take-out cocktail bill, said his desire to associate the two remains.

“We’d love to see those two things go together, but I’m open to talking about it,” Regan said.

Just as state policymakers are divided on this issue, restaurant owners are not exactly on the same page either.

While some prefer to limit the legislation to take-out cocktails, as that would be the fastest way to earn Wolf’s signature and bring that option back onto the drinks menu, others think Regan has the right idea.

Marty Schoffstall, owner of the SpringGate Estate Vineyard and Brewery with locations in Lower Paxton and Upper Allen Township, likes the route Regan wants to take.

“The Commonwealth and the citizens of the Commonwealth must have more choices than they currently have and therefore this must move forward,” said Schoffstall. “Looking at fine wine and liquor stores, the solution to the problem was abandoned by 48 states across the country a long time ago. “

He said the only people who have a problem with expanding access to ready-to-drink products are those who favor the state-controlled alcohol system.

Angelo Karagiannis, owner of Zembies in downtown Harrisburg, said he was glad the issue of take-out cocktails still held the attention of the Legislature, but he also has doubts about it.

“I would welcome them with pleasure,” he said. “But that doesn’t seem like the most responsible thing to do.”

Karagiannis said that people who entered his establishment and left with drinks in hand were parked in garages or on the street, so he had no way of knowing if they were putting the drinks in the trunk of their vehicle when ‘they were leaving, because the obligatory rule.

He said owners of suburban establishments have the added responsibility of monitoring this activity and making sure that customers do not consume the drinks on their premises.

Another concern raised during last summer’s discussion of ready-to-drink products was that these drinks had a known level of alcohol content that was printed on the side of the packaging. But with the cocktails to go, it was left to the discretion of a bartender.

As these concerns persist, the statewide organization representing restaurants and bars said the survival of their industry remains in jeopardy.

Longstreet pointed to a recent National Restaurant Association survey last month which found that 77% of restaurants have reported a decline in indoor dining in recent weeks. What’s more, 80% of homeowners say their sales are lower than they were in 2019 before the pandemic.

“This harsh reality makes most restaurateurs expect the worst,” said Longstreet. “Twenty-one percent of operators don’t think operations will ever return to normal. If there is one thing restaurant owners and employees can be sure of, it is the continuing uncertainty.

“The legislature has acted to extend important waivers to other parts of Pennsylvania’s affected industries – now is the time to show that same support and action for a bill that would help the restaurant industry. “

Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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