RD203 - Virginia ABC Report on “Cocktails to Go” Pursuant to Chapter 281 of the 2021 Acts of Assembly

Executive Summary:

As a result of various Executive Orders issued to address public health concerns during the pandemic, a number of businesses were forced to severely limit their operations. One segment of the industry significantly affected was the restaurant industry. Limitations on the number of patrons, the ability to “dine in", and the closure of bar areas negatively affected the business practices of these establishments in a significant financial and personal way.

To alleviate these negative impacts, The Virginia Alcoholic Control Beverage Authority (‘Virginia ABC’), working within the parameters of the Executive Orders and limited modifications to its regulations, began to allow these establishments to offer cocktails to go for off-premises consumption. The initiative allowed cocktails to go when coupled with a meal and under public safety guidelines regarding the containers of alcoholic beverages to avoid illegal consumption and increased drinking and driving. The number of cocktails to go per order were limited to two drinks per customer when accompanied with a meal. The safeguards and parameters of offering cocktails to go was captured in “Virginia ABC" Topic 13, a copy of which is attached to this report, as Exhibit 1.

Cocktails to go was very well received by restaurants and consumers, providing a significant economic life-line to these establishments. Importantly, the initiative was monitored closely by Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement and very few incidents of non-compliance were noted during the period of time when Topic 13 was in effect.

As the pandemic continued, the General Assembly convened in January of 2021 and among other issues, addressed cocktails to go. HB 1879, introduced by the Chairman of House General Laws, David Bulova, and Senate Bill 1299 introduced by Senator John J. Bell were considered and received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate. The legislation was signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam, becoming effective on July 1, 2021. In addition to addressing the substance and practice of cocktails to go, the circumstances under which the privilege could take place, the type of containers that should be utilized and the necessity to serve a meal with every two cocktails to go, the legislation also included two additional enactment clauses.

Enactment clause 2 provided a sunset date of July 1, 2022, for the legislation.

Enactment clause 3 requested that Virginia ABC convene a group of stakeholders to study the delivery of mixed beverages and pre-mixed wine for off-premises consumption. The further charge of Enactment 3 was to determine whether such provisions should be implemented permanently and to identify any further statutory or regulatory modifications that should be made in the event that such provisions are made permanent. Finally, Enactment 3 requested that Virginia ABC report its findings and recommendations to the Chairmen of the House General Laws and the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services by November 1, 2021.

Pursuant to the request of the General Assembly, Virginia ABC convened stakeholders to begin deliberations on the question of the permanency of cocktails to go and recommendations for modifications, either statutory or regulatory.

The stakeholder group consisted of approximately 37-40 individuals interested in the cocktails to go issue. The size of the group varied from meeting to meeting but was very well attended at each of the six meetings held to discuss issues associated with cocktails to go. A copy of the stakeholder list is attached as Exhibit 2.

Meetings of the group were held on May 18, June 15, July 20, August 17, September 15, and October 12 of 2021. A work plan was developed that included focused meetings on various topics associated with cocktails to go. Those topics ranged from initial thoughts by members, research on other states authorizing cocktails to go, economic benefits of cocktails to go, third party delivery platforms, and public health and safety considerations potentially associated with cocktails to go. The stakeholder work plan is attached as Exhibit 3.