The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is allowing restaurants to sell carry-out containers of beer and wine with food orders while the coronavirus pandemic has shut down dine-in business. But the organization is drawing the line at allowing bars to sell curbside drinks.
Juana Lombard, ATC commissioner, said curbside alcohol sales is something the organization is looking at. While letting customers buy drinks to-go would work for lounges and bars with parking lots, it wouldn’t be useful for businesses in locations like the French Quarter, downtown Baton Rouge or downtown Lafayette.
“We would love to allow every establishment that sells alcohol to be open and working, but we’re thinking about public safety,” Lombard said. “We can’t put the public at risk.”
Nearly 2,300 bars across the state have been closed since Tuesday, according to statistics from the Beer Industry League of Louisiana. While restaurants are allowed to sell bottles and cans of beer and wine, if an establishment is classified as a bar, it can not be open, even if it sells food out of a kitchen.
The one exception are the drive-thru daiquiri shops, which are allowed to operate because customers can’t congregate in a room and spread the coronavirus.
“Bars clearly don’t like to be shut down like this,” said John Williams, executive director of the Beer League, which represents the brewing industry statewide. “But we’re in a holding pattern because there’s so much uncertainty out there right now with the coronavirus.”
The goal of the bar and restaurant closures is to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak, to prevent the cases of the disease from skyrocketing. “We don’t want to have public congregations,” Lombard said.
While the ATC is allowing restaurants to sell carry-out beer and wine with food orders, Lombard said the idea is for people to order drinks in advance and pick them up, not linger inside a restaurant while their meal is being cooked.
“The quicker we stop the spread of the virus, the quicker we can get businesses back open,” she said.
Cary Koch, executive director of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild, said the state’s 33 craft breweries are still allowed to sell cans, bottles and growlers of beer to-go on the premises because they have special permits to produce and package beers. “That’s the one benefit of being a brewer,” he said.
Despite breweries still being able to sell their products, Koch said it isn’t much of an advantage because the money they make from selling packaged beverages pale in comparison to the business they see from selling draft beer in their tap rooms that are now closed.
“A lot of these breweries are being hit very, very hard and a lot of them are in month-to-month business,” Koch said. “The sales they generate one month help with the cash flow for the next month.”
The fear is a prolonged shutdown could force the state’s craft breweries to close. “We just need all the support we can get,” he said. “We’re hoping there will be more of a sense of community and more local support.”