While local restaurateurs lauded Gov. Greg Abbott’s relaxation of Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rules regarding “to-go” alcohol sales as well as alcohol deliveries to consumers, there is now a movement to further relax the restrictions on mixed drinks.
The “Free the Margaritas” petition asks the state to allow restaurants to mix, seal and sell all mixed drinks – not just margaritas – as the industry copes with social distancing restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. All restaurants in Texas are temporarily limited to carryout, drive-through and delivery service.
Per Abbott’s relaxation of the state’s liquor laws, restaurants with mixed beverage permits can deliver or sell hard liquor to-go in bottles that are 375 millimeters or smaller, and they must be sealed by the manufacturer.
One area restaurant owner who has signed the online petition is Alli Jarrett of Harold’s Restaurant, Bar & Rooftop Terrace on 19th Street in the Heights.
Jarrett said many restaurants had stocked up for St. Patrick’s Day and, in a lot of cases, if only one bottle had been opened from an order, suppliers would not accept returns.
“There is all this liquor, along with draft beer and keg wine,” Jarrett said.
It’s sitting on the shelf, Jarrett explained, because of the rules still in place for mixed drink sales.
Beers, ales, wines and/or distilled spirits can be delivered to customers only when accompanied by a food order that was prepared on the business’ premises. That the alcohol must be delivered in its original container that was sealed by the manufacturer has been a sticking point for many restaurant owners.
“It needs to go to the guests the way you received it,” Jarrett said, noting that non-alcoholic mixers can be packaged by the restaurant.
The grumbling of some on social media this week about TABC crackdowns may have been because restaurants sold mixtures they had made and sealed themselves – partly due to confusion caused by early wording of the guidelines, which was later corrected.
Also, the fact that drive-through margarita establishments in town, which have different permits, were selling pre-mixed drinks might have encouraged restaurants. The drive-through businesses sell drinks with a lower alcohol content that are not made with distilled spirits.
“A number of places didn’t understand the rule,” Jarrett said. “[But] there’s a lot of empathy for everyone.”
For now, Jarrett is stocking mini-bottles of vodka, whiskey and tequila for takeout and delivery. And she also signed the petition at bit.ly/freethemargs.
“I’ve signed my name to so many things in the last couple of days I can’t even count,” Jarrett said. “So many are hanging by a thread.”