Cozumel Mexican Restaurant manager Miguel Lopez says getting the state’s permission to sell carryout margaritas probably won’t backfill the 30% decrease in business he saw during parts of the pandemic.
But he thinks carryout margaritas with an order of burritos certainly won’t hurt business.
A bill Gov. Tony Evers signed into law last week allows licensed bars and restaurants to sell mixed alcoholic drinks and wine in sealed carryout containers, starting Monday. Lopez and others say they’re still examining the law change, including considering what kinds of containers to buy for carryout alcoholic drinks.
“Even before the pandemic, for many years, our customers have asked us all the time for margaritas to go,” Lopez said. “Sometimes they didn’t understand the situation that we weren’t allowed to sell alcohol like that, even though a margarita might go very good with a meal to go.
“Especially now, I think the law change is a good idea to do something extra to help business a little bit.”
Wisconsin joins 34 other states that allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails, mixed drinks and wine to carryout customers in sealed containers. Wisconsin’s law change had bipartisan support from lawmakers, although the Wisconsin Grocers Association opposed the bill, The Associated Press reported.
Restaurants weathering massive revenue losses during the pandemic pushed for the law change for a year.
Rep. David Steffen, a Republican Assembly member from the Green Bay area who co-authored the bill, said in a statement that struggling restaurant and bar owners are saying the “$30 to $50 a day in revenue through cocktails to go can make the difference between staying open or closing forever.”
Steffen said other states haven’t seen intoxicated-driving problems stemming from the sale of to-go containers.
Some local bar-and-grill restaurants say they have sold to-go drink kits with sealed mini-bottles of alcohol and nonalcoholic mixers during the pandemic. That added a revenue stream when they saw a falloff in dine-in customers but an increase in curbside and carryout orders.
The new state law allows restaurants and bars to sell to-go alcoholic drinks as long as the containers have “tamper-evident seals … a device or material that is used to securely and fully close off a container, with no perforations, in such a manner that access to the contents of the container cannot be gained without showing evidence of tampering.”
The law does not allow delivery of alcoholic drinks.
That seems to put the onus on consumers to avoid opening a sealed alcohol container and consuming it on their drive home, which is not allowed under state law.
It’s a gray area, but one that gives some establishments pause before they dive into offering to-go drinks.
Jessica Carlson, who manages My Apartment Pub & Grill on the west side, said she is still looking into the law and which containers and seals might pass muster.
“We’d want to make sure all our bases are covered,” she said. “There’s still that risk if somebody opens it in the car, and we don’t want to be the ones liable. So we’ve got to make sure we’d be following all the proper steps.”
Xochitl Velazquez, a bartender at Mo’s TAASBAG, a sports pub and grill on Milton Avenue, said she has heard only a few patrons talking about the new law over the weekend. She said she’s not sure what the market might be for curbside or carryout drinks, but she is intrigued by the idea.
Mabt Nou of Janesville, who sat with a bottle of beer at the U-shaped bar at TAASBAG on Monday, said he thinks neighborhood bars and restaurants have worked hard and could use a boost.
But Nou said he is conflicted. He wonders if the pandemic-driven trend of curbside and to-go ordering has sidestepped a key part of the restaurant bill: the tip.
He worries that some consumers have grown desensitized when it comes to tipping.
“It’s been a tough business. If you know a bartender, you kind of want to come in to support them, to tip them, in person. To help them out,” Nou said. “That bartender, you know, who makes the best old fashioned is still out there trying to earn a living.
“Then again, we’ve had one pandemic now, so we’ve all seen what can happen. What if someday the state had to put a dining capacity cap back in place? Then drinks to go would be the way you could hang on. It would really seem like a lifeline.”