Food

If you ordered liquor with your restaurant to-go order during the pandemic, it may soon become a permanent option. Is it good for business or does it encourage people to drink and drive? That's the dilemma.

A measure known as “alcohol to go,” which would allow restaurants to include alcoholic drinks or bottles as part of take-home orders, is ready to go for a vote before the full House in the Florida legislature.

The proposal (HB 329), filed by Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, was backed last week by the House Commerce Committee. It would allow restaurants and certain bars to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages in sealed containers to go when accompanied by food.

“This bill is a lifeline for businesses during this time,” said Tomkow. “It is very important. And what better way to see how a piece of legislation works out than to have a year for us to see, which is exactly what we were able to do during the pandemic.”

The practice was allowed in an executive order issued last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis to help restaurants that were forced to scale back operations in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would make that practice permanent. It would require motorists to place the drinks in locked compartments, vehicle trunks or in areas behind the last upright seats in vehicles.

Teresa Miller, representing Families Struggling with Addiction, said she couldn’t understand how allowing alcohol to be delivered to homes became essential during the pandemic.

“I'm all for capitalism and open markets, and I've been supporting the restaurants,” Miller said. “But I just don't see how you can support allowing alcohol to be delivered to homes and to allow restaurants to give people alcohol to drive home with.”

Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat who has been heavily involved in traffic-safety issues, said the proposal could keep people from drinking at restaurants and then driving home.

“I tend to think that there's something in this legislation that will actually prevent people from driving to restaurants and actually ordering the spirits and the wine from these restaurants,” Slosberg said. “I tend to think this might actually prevent some people from drinking and driving if they have the option to order it from a restaurant.”

Tomkow made an addition to the bill intended to keep restaurants with liquor licenses from becoming full package stores. A similar Senate bill (SB 148) is moving through the legislative process in a parallel track.

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