At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants were temporarily allowed to serve alcohol to go as a way to help them stay in business as seating inside was limited or non-existent.

Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill into law in early July that made this change permanent, effective this past Saturday.

Popular Columbia establishments such as The Heidelberg and Las Margaritas have participated in the relaxed regulations that would have expired at the end of August had the new law not been enacted.

Sergio Martinez, assistant manager of Las Margaritas, said the change has benefited the Mexican restaurant’s business and overall sales. Customers can choose between margaritas on the rocks or frozen for a treat to take with their favorite meal, he said, though other mixed drinks are not available to go.

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“It’s definitely had a positive impact,” Martinez said. “We can only see sales going up.”

Rusty Walls, general manager of The Heidelberg, offered a differing perspective, saying that overall alcohol sales haven’t seen a drastic shift one way or another.

Cocktails on The Heidelberg’s drink menu are available to go, but Walls expressed that the alcoholic beverages customers take to go are usually those ordered with a sit-down meal to be finished later.

“It’s more so putting a lid on it,” Walls said of alcoholic drinks ordered by sit-down customers, emphasizing he hasn’t seen an increase in alcohol sales.

Before the pandemic, taking alcoholic drinks out of bars and restaurants was strictly prohibited, but as people continue to social distance and the Delta variant surges, cocktails and beer are being offered curbside to promote business at restaurants. 

Under the bill, drinks must be served along with food and in tamper-proof, sealed containers, which are intended to help discourage drinking and driving as the drinks are transported back to homes. The containers must be durable, leak-proof and less than 128 ounces. Customers are limited to two drinks per meal. 

The legislation also did away with restrictions on Sunday hours that alcohol can be sold, allowing drinks to be sold daily between 6 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. 

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“The path to economic recovery for the hospitality industry will last years, and consumers have grown accustomed to the increased convenience of cocktails to-go,” Kristi Brown, senior director of state government relations of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said in a news release. “Making cocktails to-go permanent is a win for Missouri businesses and consumers.”

At least 16 states have allowed to-go cocktails to be sold permanently. Due to the pandemic, more than half of states had relaxed their rules.

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