California’s latest attempt at to-go cocktail freedom
Senate Bill 846 epitomizes California’s approach to almost everything. Even when lawmakers try to do the right thing by giving people more freedom, they can’t help but make things more costly and complicated than they need to be.
When legislation passed last year permitting restaurants to sell to-go drinks, it included several limitations that drew ire from the industry. For instance, the law stipulated that restaurants could only sell to-go alcohol if it was accompanied by a “bona fide” meal in the same order. It also allowed to-go or curbside drinks, but pointedly did not authorize the delivery of those drinks to customers’ homes.
California lawmakers have decided to revisit the issue to clean up these arbitrary restrictions from the last go-around. The new bill would scrap the antiquated meal requirement, as well as specifically allow delivery rather than just curbside pick-up.
In addition to this noteworthy progress, California lawmakers have still managed to tuck a few unfortunate provisions into the bill. The new “consumer delivery service” permit created by the legislation which would allow restaurants, bars or third-party delivery companies to deliver to consumer homes will apparently have a $20,000 application fee and a $1,500 annual renewal fee.
These figures are far out of proportion to delivery permit fees in other states that have enacted to-go and delivery reforms. For instance, Louisiana’s delivery permit costs $1,500, while North Carolina’s is only $400. Even Virginia’s new law checks in at $7,500 for companies with more than 25 employees, and $2,500 for those with fewer than 25. For a bill that is to meant to help struggling small businesses, it is incongruous to charge $20,000 for the right to deliver a margarita.
The new bill also contains a curious requirement that all delivery personnel complete an approved responsible beverage service (RBS) training course in order to engage in alcohol deliveries. RBS training is the industry-standard training for waiters and bartenders who are tasked with serving alcohol to dining patrons.
Given its use in the restaurant industry, RBS training includes a lot of requirements that have no direct application in the delivery context. Among other things, it includes training on “intervention techniques for dealing with inebriated customers” and state laws concerning driving under the influence. It culminates in a two-hour exam at the end in order to complete the certification.
For the barkeep at the neighborhood Applebee’s, it’s obviously important that he or she be able to discern how alcohol can impact a customer who continues to imbibe over a period of time. If unchecked, that customer could attempt to drive home intoxicated or engage in other harmful behavior while on-premise.
The delivery context is much different. Delivery drivers operate exclusively at the point-of-sale for alcohol and then no longer maintain contact with the customer.
It therefore makes little sense to train them on topics like “intervention techniques” for inebriated customers, and it makes even less sense to require extensive training on drunk driving laws after all, the whole point of delivery is to bring the alcohol to the customer so they do not have to drive.
Despite all the COVID-19-era alcohol delivery reforms that have been enacted across the country, there is still little in the way of standardized training guidelines for alcohol delivery personnel. One idea would be for organizations like the National Association of Licensing and Compliance Professionals to develop industry best practices that states could follow.
In the meantime, California could follow what other states have done in creating two types of training one for servers and one for delivery drivers and more narrowly tailoring delivery training to truly relevant topics.
California lawmakers have shown a willingness to update the state’s alcohol rules in recent years, and even Gov. Gavin Newsom recently promoted California’s “freedoms” in an ad he ran in Florida. In this new bill, they should now go all the way and fully unshackle alcohol delivery in the Golden State.