Hawkeyes with Mai Tais: Iowa makes to-go cocktails permanent

June 30, 2020, 5:05 PM UTC

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As COVID-19 continues to shut down major parts of the American economy, legislators and industry groups are scrambling to create innovative ways to safely incentivize job retention and spending. One idea, which has caught on in 30 states plus the District of Columbia, is to allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails and bottled spirits to-go.

On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into legislation HF 2540, which makes cocktails to-go permanently legal for both takeout and delivery. Iowa is the first state to make the temporary relief measure permanent, but legislatures in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia are also considering it. 

“Iowa’s hospitality businesses have suffered greatly due to the harsh financial impacts of COVID-19,” said Dale Szyndrowski, vice president of state government relations at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “Making cocktails to-go permanent provides a much-needed source of stability and revenue for local bars, restaurants, and distilleries as they begin to recover…Iowa is leading the way and serving as a model for other states looking for innovative ways to boost struggling hospitality businesses.”

Restaurants have lost nearly three times as many jobs as any other industry because of the pandemic. Eating and drinking establishments in the United States registered sales of $38.6 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis in May, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; that’s down about $27 billion from sales in January and February, before COVID-19. 

New York was the first state to launch drinks-to-go as a temporary economic relief measure in March, and Gov. Cuomo recently extended the order for at least another 30 days.

“We understand the positive impact this has had for businesses during this trying time, and we intend to renew this option in an upcoming executive order,” Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior adviser, said in a statement. A New York State senator has created legislation to extend the act for two years, but it has not been acted on yet. 

Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs, said in a statement that take-out drinks make up about 10% of the restaurant industry’s current revenue.

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