Testimony from:
Sarah Wall, Government Affairs Region Manager, Northeast Region, R Street Institute

In Support of FY 2023 New York State Executive Budget – Public Protection and General Government Article VII Legislation – Part P

February 16, 2022

Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee

Chair Krueger, Chair Weinstein and Honorable Members of the Committee,

My name is Sarah Wall and I am the government affairs manager for the Northeast region at R Street Institute (R Street). R Street is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization focused on advancing limited, effective government in many policy areas, including alcohol policy. We favor rational alcoholic beverage policies that respect individual freedom, free enterprise and the public well-being.

R Street supports the provisions in the FY 2023 New York State Executive Budget’s Public Protection and General Government Article VII Legislation that would permanently allow small businesses in New York’s hospitality industry to sell alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and cocktails, via take-out and delivery. Enacting this policy permanently would be a much-needed boon to the state’s bars and restaurants, which are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19—and the policy is overwhelmingly supported by New Yorkers across the state.[1] Finally, permanently allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold to-go and via delivery would bring the state’s liquor laws into line with policies in 29 states across the country, which have significantly liberalized alcohol policy following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]

As detailed in Part P, the FY 2023 Executive Budget proposes allowing any business that holds a license to sell alcoholic beverages on-premises to also sell them for off-premises consumption. The proposal stipulates that state and local governments can pass laws restricting their sale, such as by quantity and volume, or requiring the purchase of food with the beverages.

The need to expand the sale of alcoholic beverages beyond on-premises consumption became starkly clear in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in full force in New York. As a result of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order—one of the very first in the nation—closing indoor dining for bars and restaurants but allowing them to operate take-out and delivery services of both food and drinks.[3] The order expired 15 months later on June 24, 2021, and because the legislature had not passed a new law making some version of to-go alcoholic beverages permanent, restaurants and bars located in New York have not been permitted to sell them via delivery or to-go for the last eight months.[4] The abrupt end of to-go and delivery authorization imposed significant costs for restaurants and bars—in some cases leaving establishments with thousands of leftover to-go cocktail bottles and labels.[5]

Allowing restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption was a lifeline for these small businesses throughout the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants often aim to make 30 percent of their revenue from the sale of cocktails, beer and wine; for bars, the figures are even higher.[6] Without the ability to sell drinks to-go and via delivery, even more of these establishments would have been forced to close, in addition to the 1,000 that shut their doors in New York City alone.[7]

However, more than COVID-19 has paved the way toward making to-go and delivery alcoholic beverages permanent. The modern-day explosion of delivery services available on apps and websites have made Americans accustomed to getting everything they need delivered to their door, sometimes within hours, including take-out meals, groceries, pharmaceutical drugs and any number of essential goods. While COVID-19 certainly accelerated these trends, e-commerce was growing at a healthy pace long before the pandemic, increasing by $78.4 billion in the United States from 2018 to 2019 and another $193.7 billion from 2019 to 2020.[8]

Even pre-pandemic, 56 percent of Americans agreed they would buy alcoholic beverages with to-go orders from restaurants if they could, and by May 2021, 78 percent of New Yorkers wanted to make the COVID-19-era policies permanent.[9]

Many other states have already taken the lead on extending or making permanent to-go and delivery alcohol. As of late 2021, 29 states extended the to-go sale of alcoholic beverages for at least two years; 20 of those made the allowance permanent. These include several of New York’s neighbors, including Connecticut, which extended to-go sales through at least 2024, and Vermont, which extended them through at least 2023.[10] The Rhode Island Legislature is quickly moving legislation through the process to make it permanent as well, which is especially notable because of Rhode Island’s historical disfavor for loosening regulations on alcoholic beverages; it is, for instance, one of 11 states to ban happy hour.[11]

With New York’s thousands of restaurants and brewpubs working hard to regain the foothold lost during the pandemic, this Committee can now extend the lifeline of permanently resurrecting the policy that helped get them through the darkest days—and will only benefit them in days to come. R Street encourages the inclusion and passage of Part P in the FY 2023 Executive Budget.

Respectfully submitted,

Sarah Wall
Government Affairs Region Manager
R Street Institute
[email protected]

[1]  Bernadette Hogan, “78% of New Yorkers want to keep ‘cocktails to go,’ poll says,” New York Post, May 24, 2021. https://nypost.com/2021/05/24/78-of-new-yorkers-want-to-keep-cocktails-to-go-poll-says.

[2] R Street Institute, “Capturing the COVID Booze Wave,” DrinksReform, Sept. 16, 2021. http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2021/9/14/5ba4nltnix8n4z3446ux4gxkvdihjy.

[3] Executive Order No. 202.3, State of New York Executive Chamber, March 16, 2020. https://www.nysac.org/files/EO_202_3.pdf.

[4] Ida Siegal and Kiki Intarasuwan, “New York’s 474-Day COVID Emergency Is Officially Over (and So Is To-Go Alcohol),” NBC4 New York, June 24, 2021. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/no-more-alcoholic-drinks-to-go-new-york-to-end-pandemic-exemption-thursday/3122478/.

[5] C. Jarrett Dieterle, “Let them drink cocktails: New York yanks away to-go alcohol, a popular pandemic innovation,” New York Daily News, June 25, 2021. https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-let-them-drink-cocktails-20210625-bdkhg2aoqfcunch3rhlitlvtb4-story.html.

[6] Michelle Tempesta, “Alcohol Sales Help Restaurants Stay Afloat During Pandemic,” FSR Magazine, June 2020. https://www.fsrmagazine.com/expert-takes/alcohol-sales-help-restaurants-stay-afloat-during-pandemic.

[7] Emma Orlow and Luke Fortney, “A Popular Local Brooklyn Bakery Shutters Its Scoop Shop — and More Closings,” Eater New York, Jan. 28, 2022. https://ny.eater.com/2022/1/7/22851679/nyc-restaurant-closings-january-2022.

[8] “Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, COVID-19 boosts online sales,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, May 3, 2021. https://unctad.org/news/global-e-commerce-jumps-267-trillion-covid-19-boosts-online-sales.

[9] Michelle Tempesta, “Alcohol Sales Help Restaurants Stay Afloat During Pandemic,” (2020).  https://www.fsrmagazine.com/expert-takes/alcohol-sales-help-restaurants-stay-afloat-during-pandemic; Bernadette Hogan, “78% of New Yorkers want to keep ‘cocktails to go’” (2021). https://nypost.com/2021/05/24/78-of-new-yorkers-want-to-keep-cocktails-to-go-poll-says.

[10] Leeanne Griffin, “Alcohol to go will continue in CT until 2024,” CT Insider, July 2, 2021. https://www.ctinsider.com/business/article/Alcohol-to-go-will-continue-in-CT-until-2024-16289953.php; Courtney Kramer, “To-go drinks, here to stay in Vermont for at least 2 more years,” MyChamplainValley.com, July 5, 2021. https://www.mychamplainvalley.com/news/to-go-drinks-here-to-stay-in-vermont-for-at-least-2-more-years.

[11] Patrick Anderson, “Takeout alcohol and outdoor dining bills could get vote by Valentine’s Day,” The Providence Journal, Feb. 7, 2022. https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/politics/2022/02/07/rhode-island-alcoholic-take-out-drinks-covid-19-outdoor-dining-rules-vote/6693045001; Abigail Sitterley, “As Restaurants Struggle, Some States Ask: Why is Happy Hour Still Banned?” InsideSources, Aug. 5, 2021. https://insidesources.com/as-restaurants-struggle-some-states-ask-why-is-happy-hour-still-banned.

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