Oregon restaurants and bars will be able to sell takeout Manhattans, daiquiris, and more long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Today, the Oregon House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 317, which allows bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to-go permanently, as long as they’re sold in a sealed container.
In December, Oregon legislators passed a bill that temporarily allowed restaurants and bars to sell takeout drinks made with hard liquor, as well as single-serving portions of wine. However, that bill was tied to the current state of emergency related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The latest bill, which passed a vote on the House floor on June 1, allows that legislation to continue, untethered to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portland’s food service community fought for takeout cocktail legislation for much of 2020, arguing that cocktails were a much-needed source of revenue when many restaurants and bars couldn’t serve customers indoors or at full capacity. “Cocktails to-go has been one of the many lifelines we have needed to help my business survive,” Palomar owner Ricky Gomez notes in written testimony for Senate Bill 317. “Over the past four months our online sales for pickup and delivery increased by 10 (times) compared to previous months when it was not permitted. It has allowed us to cover many costs, including payroll and rent, to minimize our losses during these difficult times.”
However, even as restrictions loosen and many restaurants reopen their dining rooms, many restaurant and bars are still trying to earn back lost revenue from the past year, to pay back-rent, re-hire employees, and pay off loans. And some industry workers doubt customers will dine and drink the way they did before COVID-19, even after dining rooms fully reopen, which means sales will probably stay at a fraction of what they once were. Kyle Webster, the owner of Northeast Portland cocktail bar Expatriate, submitted written testimony for the bill, noting the social impact of COVID-19 may cause financial problems for restaurant and bar workers even as cases dwindle. “I know that there will be lingering effects of our collective experience of Covid-19,” Webster writes. “People will be less willing to cram themselves into a small room full of strangers. People will linger less, having only one round instead of two. As we make our way out of the pandemic, as individuals, communities, businesses, and as a state, the successful operation of bars and restaurants will be more challenging than it ever has been. Anything that can help with our bottom line, like the permanent implementation of cocktails to go, could make the difference between survival and insolvency.”
Katy Connors Daugherty, the advisory board chair of the Independent Restaurant Coalition of Oregon, posted on Instagram celebrating the vote, attributing the win to community support and the work of Oregon State Rep. Rob Nosse, one of the bill’s chief sponsors alongside Oregon Senator Lee Beyer. “We are so thankful for Representative Rob Nosse, who stood on the floor today and fought for restaurants and bars in the state,” Connors Daugherty says. “He... has been supporting us and this bill for a year.”
The bill is now being prepared to go to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk, where she can sign it into law.