Will Alcohol To-Go become the New Normal in Texas?

By  //  September 14, 2020

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some restaurateurs are touting a popular policy to generate additional revenue

Texas has seen a lot of changes since the coronavirus outbreak. While this period has been difficult for many businesses, some restaurateurs are touting a popular policy to generate additional revenue.

Texas has seen a lot of changes since the coronavirus outbreak. While this period has been difficult for many businesses, some restaurateurs are touting a popular policy to generate additional revenue.

In March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a waiver to allow to-go alcohol sales to aid struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 shutdown.

This order was set to expire May 1 but received an indefinite extension. While this extension is partly due to the uncertainty surrounding social distancing requirements, alcohol to-go is gaining popularity among locals.

Recently, Governor Abbott tweeted his support for extending the temporary to-go alcohol sales waiver into permanence.

In response, State Rep. Tan Parker said he will file a bill to promote the cause in next year’s legislative session. This means alcohol to-go could be on the legislative pathway to becoming law in Texas.

To make this change, however, legislators must consider the implications of to-go alcohol sales. Updates to COVID-19 safety measures, expanded restaurant alcohol rights, and changes to existing open container laws will be the main talking points. As such, there is no set deadline for when this policy can be drafted and put into law.

Alcohol To-Go Measures During COVID-19

As per the Governor’s original March order, restaurants were only able to serve alcohol in containers sealed by the manufacturer. This means restaurants cannot mix drinks and sell them to-go. To accommodate, some have sold cocktail mixing kits with sealed mini alcohol bottles for customers to make at home. Although some restaurants initially made errors selling mixed, unsealed alcoholic beverages, more restaurants now understand and follow the rules.

This policy has boosted restaurants’ revenue during difficult times. However, if a measure like this were to become permanent, it may be hard to tell how it could be implemented on a larger scale.

Case Study: Louisiana

One prime example of to-go alcohol sales comes from the neighboring state of Louisiana. Louisiana is known for its to-go daiquiri industry, where certain businesses sell alcohol to customers through a drive-thru.

Louisiana daiquiris are usually packaged in a regular sealed cup with a straw taped to the lid. Until the straw or lid is removed or broken, the drink is legally considered a closed container. While some argue daiquiris straddle the line between closed and open containers, Louisiana’s case study may provide Texas legislators some alcohol policy direction.

Daiquiri to-go restaurants are scattered throughout Louisiana and have shown economic success. These to-go spots have special privileges. Louisiana bars cannot serve alcohol to-go and restaurants are limited to beer and wine orders.

So, although Louisiana’s daiquiri policy could guide Texas to-go alcohol order laws, the state does not have a straightforward approach. If Texas implements similar measures, legislators will first need to define what constitutes an “open container.”

Open Container Laws in Texas

Many know the dangers and punishments associated with driving while intoxicated. Few may know what constitutes an open container violation in Texas.

A container can be classified as “open” under four different criteria, according to DWI criminal attorney Benson Varghese, a managing partner at Varghese Summersett. Legally, any alcohol container that is open, was previously opened, has had its seal broken, or had its contents partially removed is considered an “open container.” This means that a recorked wine bottle or inappropriately sealed to-go alcohol order could result in legal trouble.

To safely and legally transport opened alcohol, Varghese tells drivers and passengers to keep it away from the wheel.

“To avoid an open container violation and keep others safe, store any opened alcohol in the trunk of your vehicle. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, store it in the glove compartment or another place where you cannot easily reach for it while driving” explained Attorney Benson Varghese of Varghese Summersett PLLC.

Doing so can help keep your eyes on the road and avoid any confusion as to whether the driver or passengers are drinking while in the vehicle.

Although there is a lot to decide about whether Texas will expand its current to-go alcohol restaurant orders, legislators must weigh the economic benefits with the potential ramifications for DWIs in Texas. Likewise, expect further measures for restaurants to abide by regarding open container laws, which go hand-in-hand with DWI enforcement.

In all, alcohol to-go may be a popular policy, but it has certain drawbacks that need discussion. Texans should not expect a permanent alcohol to-go bill until next year, at the earliest.