Pandemic-era Cocktails to-go policy would be permanent under new bill

The first time bills drafted to allow cocktails to be sold to-go was introduced into the Michigan legislature, some lawmakers likened the language to having been written on a bar napkin. 

It didn't inspire much confidence. 

However, the return of those bills to the Michigan legislature has also brought a return of momentum behind legalizing the to-go sale of mixed drinks and other beverages with spirits.

"We've always been able to sell our beer to-go," said Tim Selewski of Royal Oak Brewery. "Why couldn't we sell someone a mixed drink to go?"

Selewski's endorsement of the legislation goes back to the time period when it ws first introduced: the pandemic.

It first arrived in the state House in the summer of 2020 when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave Michigan bars and restaurants the green light to offer drink-to-go services. It felt like a lifeline for Selewski.

"At that point in time we were trying to survive. And that’s not hyperbole I mean we were trying to survive," he said. "So any income stream we could get our hands on, not just us, any restaurant was looking for that."

A bill to make the change permanent died in the legislature last year

The pandemic has waned, but the desire for more flexibility in their food and beverage sale policies has not, according to the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

"Seventy-eight percent of Michigan citizens polled said they were for this. Only 8% said that they were completely against it, so it's pretty wildly popular (for) all genders, as well as age brackets as well," said John McNamara, the vice residence of government affairs at the group.

The momentum isn't just in the industry; the market is also pointing toward the option of more to-go services.

The advent of third-party delivery services like UberEats, DoorDash, and GrubHub have all enabled even easier ways for people to get food, drinks, and everything in between ordered to their home.

"The most classic example is someone goes to pick up Mexican food from their favorite Mexican place, wants to get margaritas and decides ok I can get margaritas to go and take it home," McNamara said. "I’m sure with Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, that will be a popular option for a lot of people."

Under HB 4201, which breezed through the Michigan House on Tuesday, to-go cocktails would be permanently legal. Currently, they're only allowed under Whitmer's pandemic order.

The Michigan Senate has yet to weigh in on the legislation. However, proponents of the bill hope to see the governor's signature by the summer.