The takeaway liquor sales were set to expire next June after entering the state market during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to boost business at struggling bars and restaurants.
The new legislation retains standards under current law that allow permittees to sell and deliver alcohol for off-premise consumption as long as the order is accompanied by food and the container is securely sealed, among other provisions.
Sales are limited to 196 ounces of beer, one liter of spirits, and 1.5 liters of wine per customer, per order.
Now that the sales are permanent, Phil Barnett, the CEO of the Hartford Restaurant Group, said it’s just a matter of letting the customers know to-go alcohol exists.
“I think it’s really creating that awareness. A lot of guests don’t even know that this is even a possibility,” Barnett said. “One thing that COVID has really taught us is that those that aren’t willing to adapt will be left behind. And so we’ve had to adapt in many different ways.”
Since the pandemic, the Hartford Restaurant Group’s Wood-n-Tap locations have curated an expansive to-go beverage menu, from classic libations like beers, wines and spirits, to widely popular cocktail kits. Among Barnett’s favorites are margarita packs that come complete with salt and fresh-sliced limes, and an old-fashioned bundle with bitters, orange and cherries.
“It’s been great because we’ve been able to go ahead and share that beverage experience, not just in the restaurant, but outside of it,” Barnett said.
While to-go alcohol is still a relatively new concept for nutmeggers, Connecticut is the 22nd state to make to-go sales permanent, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Eleven more states currently permit carry-out alcohol on a temporary basis.
“This wasn’t just a Connecticut idea, this was around the country during the pandemic,” Scott Dolch, the president and CEO of the Connecticut Restaurant Association said. “I think the pandemic, some of the silver lining of it was the creativity that you saw. … Not only do businesses love it, but most importantly the customers do.”
For Dolch, carry-out cocktails are a way for restaurants to showcase their craft with signature drinks, wine pairings, and more, bringing the full dining experience home.
“We’re not trying to, in any stretch of the imagination, become package stores,” Dolch said. “What people lose sight of is you can go to other areas and just get alcohol and liquor and bring it back. But we have some of the best bartenders, I think, in the country that make mixed drinks and certain margaritas and different kinds of drinks that are out there. But then also you have sommeliers.”
As the to-go sales grow in popularity, Dolch sees it as an opportunity for businesses to partner with local wineries, distilleries and breweries to bring more Connecticut-made beverages to the restaurant scene.
“That side, I think, is the future of what this is going to look like. I hope it continues to expand and get creative, because I think that’s what our industry is, and I’m just very happy that the legislators and the governor saw this,” Dolch said.
With continuing inflation, worker shortages, and closures, Dolch said the independently owned businesses that make up 97% of Connecticut’s full-service restaurant industry are still struggling to get back on their feet, but he is cautiously optimistic that permanent to-go sales will help.
“I’m not sitting here and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to make a huge dent in helping restaurants in a big way.’ But I think it’s something that can help, and every little bit helps right now,” Dolch said. “Even 1%, 2% of revenues that it can increase because of this offering to have alcohol to go is huge.”