Last call isn’t usually such a surprise.
NYC bar and restaurant owners say they’ve been left scrambling by Wednesday’s announcement that they had just 24 hours to serve takeout and delivery cocktails, a lucrative and popular pandemic allowance.
“Licensees please be advised that with the ending of our state of emergency and the return to pre-pandemic guidelines, the temporary pandemic-related privileges for to-go and delivery of alcoholic beverages will end after June 24,” the NYS Liquor Authority tweeted June 23.
The sudden decision to end takeout drinks is not just intensely unpopular, restaurant and bar owners told Eater, but is also a huge blow to their bottom lines.
The liquor-to-go allowance, which had been in effect since March 2020, had been “the one silver lining” of the pandemic, Halley Chambers, who runs Brooklyn eateries Rhodora Wine Bar, June Wine Bar and Rucola Restaurant, told The Post.
“To take away a critical lifeline with 24 hours’ notice not only put a massive dent in our projected income, but left us without an operational plan,” Chambers said. “Why was it that the government could not give restaurant owners notice that the program was ending? What prevented them from giving us time to plan and completely overhaul our business model, yet again?”
Some owners say the unexpected end to the allowance — which has been repeatedly extended — has stranded them with thousands of dollars in unsold booze, devastating their budget and internal supply chain.
“Doing it one day in advance is just sadistic,” Sam Goetz, the owner of Sunset Park bar Judy’s, told Eater. “I’ve got a fridge with hundreds of bottles of wine that I cannot sell by the glass and have no idea what to do with.”
Owners are not necessarily shocked that they received so little warning it was ending. However, the last-minute announcement was in line with how the government generally treated the service industry throughout the reign of COVID-19, owners said.
“The latest move by the government to remove restaurants’ ability to retail is a clear signal of how out of touch they are with our day-to-day reality,” Chambers added. “The restaurant community has shown that we are flexible and resilient, yet again and again, the government insists on testing the stability, will, and frankly energy of this community to keep fighting.”
The end of takeout cocktails also means the decimation of an entire customer base, Pete Smith, a co-owner of Manhattan’s the Waylon, told The Post. “I was there yesterday and one of the delivery pickups was like nine cocktails and no food.”
Luckily, the Waylon’s takeout containers were inexpensive and bought in bulk, or the bar’s surplus of them would pose an additional loss from the sudden legal shift.
He also felt that the ending, while abrupt, was nothing if not consistent with how the service industry has been treated by lawmakers since the start of the pandemic.
“I feel like we’re on the tail end of a year that was one quick decision after the next, of just how do we maneuver around all these changing guidelines,” he said.
Smith maintains hope that industry advocates will find a way to reinstate takeout drinks. However, and more than anything, he is distracted from their loss by his excitement that 15 months after COVID-19 forced New York City to its knees, his pub still stands.
“It’s a shame, but I’m still kind of relishing in the fact that we made it. It’s hard to not just feel grateful we still have the doors open,” he said.
The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade association for the spirits industry, has lobbied in support of cocktails to-go as a means to help struggling restaurants across the country.
“The bottom line is that just because New York’s restaurants are reopening does not mean they have recovered,” Lisa Hawkins, Distilled Spirits Council’s SVP of public affairs, told The Post. “That will take time, and now they are being stripped of an important revenue stream that helped many of these family-owned businesses make it through the pandemic.”
Many eatery owners, though, blamed the New York liquor lobby for the end of take-out booze, despite the popularity of a state bill introduced in May that would have extended it for at least another two years, Eater reported.
“Once again, Albany and NYC have responded not to the needs of desperate businesses such as ours, but instead to the extremely deep pockets of the liquor lobby, who insisted that our small operations were eating into their massive margins by retailing alcohol,” Chambers told The Post. “At the end of the day, restaurants are left unprotected because the government cares more about money than it does about policy.”
The State Liquor Authority, meanwhile, blamed state lawmakers.
“The legislature failed to permanently codify the ability of restaurants to offer alcohol to-go. With the state’s declaration of emergency expiring on Thursday, all temporary pandemic-related suspensions and directives, including privileges allowing bars, restaurants, and manufacturers to sell drinks to go, will end after June 24th,” the SLA said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a large portion of other states that permitted takeout booze during the pandemic have so far chosen to continue the provision. About 26 states are allowing to-go booze to continue, according to the National Restaurant Association, CNN reported. New York joins Pennsylvania in letting the practice expire.