Pizzeria owners can still sell alcohol for takeout and delivery if they follow regulations
Sales of beer, wine and liquor to-go helped many restaurant operators stay in business during the pandemic. These sales were made possible when state governments and other entities relaxed the regulations regarding sales of alcohol for takeout and delivery. Today, pizzeria owners have an opportunity to continue these sales, because many states extended the temporary rules or made them permanent.
Pizzeria owners say these off-premise beverage sales are important. According to Pizza Today’s 2023 State of the Pizzeria Industry Report, when asked about additional revenue streams, beer and liquor to go ranked third, noted by 23.1 percent of pizzeria owners surveyed. The top two revenue generators were catering (54.1 percent) and third-party delivery (35.8 percent).
Whether they’re selling cans of beer, bottles of wine or elaborate cocktails to go, restaurant operators need to be aware of regulations and also consider certain details.
Research your local rules. “The state regulations do vary widely,” says Mike Whatley, vice president of state affairs and grassroots advocacy for the National Restaurant Association. “The best resource is to reach out to the state restaurant association in their home market.”
The pandemic caused the greatest changes in state alcohol laws since Prohibition, Whatley says, especially regarding mixed drinks. Pre-pandemic, zero states allowed restaurants to prepare mixed drinks, then seal them and send them out for takeout or delivery. As of November 2022, 39 states plus Washington D.C. allowed those sales.
Know the details. According to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center, the types of state laws that cover the changes to these laws fall into five broad categories: states that allow all types of alcohol to be delivered and sold to-go by restaurants; states that allow for alcohol delivery and curbside sales but prohibit cocktail delivery; states that prohibit cocktail sales to-go or for delivery but allow sale of alcohol in original manufacturer containers or resealed containers; states that allow for alcohol curbside and takeout sales but restrict delivery to package retail stores; and states that prohibit alcohol to-go and delivery altogether.
Decide who will deliver the beverages. Some states do not allow third-party delivery, and only employees of the permit holder, or restaurant, may deliver alcohol. Others have certain requirements: in New Jersey, third-party delivery drivers must complete alcohol training and certification. Whatley says more states are turning their attention to third-party delivery platforms, so the rules will continue to evolve. Some states might create special licenses where the third-party delivery company would have to get its own liquor license.
The National Restaurant Association is working with Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash to make sure that as the rules change, they work for everyone. It is incumbent to make sure restaurants are in compliance Whatley says, because the liquor license is among the restaurant’s most valuable assets. “The last thing you want is for the restaurant to get in trouble,” he says.
In a press release DoorDash noted that alcohol delivery creates significant benefits for restaurants. The delivery platform estimated that adding alcohol may increase restaurants’ average customer order values by up to 30 percent.
Consult an attorney. “Some states have simply given current on-premise alcohol retailers the privileges to extend their sales to off-premise, while some states have created separate delivery permits,” says C. Jarrett Dieterle, resident senior fellow at R Street Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank. “Working with a local alcoholic beverage attorney would be a good idea to confirm the rules in one’s particular state.”
Each state sets its own rules regarding alcohol takeout and delivery. Even the governing entities vary. In Nevada, individual counties and cities regulate alcohol.
Train staff. If restaurants want to have their own employees perform the deliveries, Dieterle says, the employer needs to go over basic protocols like ensuring the employees know how to check IDs to verify the purchaser’s age.
It’s important to develop compliance policies to prevent underage sales. That includes training staff, especially delivery drivers, to check ID at the time of sale and delivery. “Drivers should keep a delivery log and ask patrons to sign off at the time of delivery confirming the person accepting the order is 21,” says attorney Marbet Lewis, founding partner with Spiritus Law in Miami. “Most violations with to-go sales relate to sales to minors and diversion of alcohol to minors. Accordingly, training staff on proper ID checking and implementing ID check policies and requirements can help avoid penalties in the long run.”
Order some new cups with lids. Even the containers are important. Some states simply require “sealed containers” or “closed containers.” California requires “A secure lid or cap sealed in a manner designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap by breaking the seal.” Illinois requires a new, rigid container that has never been used and cannot have sipping holes or openings for a straw.
“Many states have rules requiring that the drink container for a mixed beverage be sealed in some sort of tamper-proof packaging,” Dieterle says. “Depending on the state, this could be something like a sticker that must be removed before the drink can be consumed – thereby providing evidence if it was consumed before the delivery was made or before the to-go patron reached their ultimate destination.”
Don’t forget the pizza. Some states require that food be purchased with the alcohol. In Maine, that means a “full-course meal,” not prepackaged snacks. In Missouri it means a meal prepared on-premises. Some states, like Tennessee, allow alcohol to be sold in a drive-thru. Some, like South Carolina, left all their pre-pandemic rules in place: no beer, wine, or cocktail delivery or to-go.
In addition to following rules, pizzeria owners also need to figure out what their customers want. That could mean selling elaborate cocktails that people cannot make at home because they don’t typically have all the ingredients, or it could mean simply offering an assortment of red wines and white wines to satisfy everyone’s preferences in a large order. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t, with the added layer of figuring out what’s legal,” Whatley says. “You can have a lot of success in this space.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.