Restaurateurs grateful for news of alcohol to-go’s return

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester area restaurant owners are cheering over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to bring back “to-go” sales of cocktails at restaurants.

The idea was first conceived to save struggling restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic, and while it expired last year, restaurateurs have been pleading for its return.

"So it’s really nice to give them an option to just do some sort of pick up with us,” said Gretchen Nace, General manager at Ox and Stone Restaurant in Rochester.

Nace explained customers loved the pandemic era option of getting takeout cocktails when they picked up meals, and they missed them when the state’s emergency rule allowing drinks to go ended last June.

"People were calling left and right asking why they can’t get certain things to go,” she recalled. “So we had to keep them in the loop and it took a couple of months. People still call, actually.”

In New York City Wednesday, Hochul unveiled plans to pare back longtime regulations on businesses that serve booze, some of them dating back to prohibition.

"There’s still too much red tape. There was still a colossal hassle based on laws that have been in place for so long,” she explained declaring her plan to bring back cocktails to go, permanently.

"This is what kept people afloat during those dark, dark months and years of the pandemic and we said there has been a change in people’s attitudes. There’s an expectation now," Hochul joked about the tremendous reception her proposal has received already. “We’ve got all these great projects,” she exclaimed, “but the one thing that went viral was to-go drinks."

The drinks-to-go change could become law as part of the governor’s budget for next year which will go to the legislature this month. Advocates for the hospitality industry, which was brutalized by COVID, say it’s helpful for them, but also for customers.

"The ability to get a cocktail or some sangria or frozen margarita from our local small business, our local mom and pop restaurants, with our take-out order, with our to-go order is huge,” declared Max Bockman with the New York Hospitality Alliance.

"Feels like you had that restaurant experience almost, but at your house so, feels like you’re almost not missing out,” Nace said.

The state’s liquor store industry has objected to the drinks-to-go idea in the past.

If the plan becomes law, representatives from all the industries, and the public will be able to weigh in as state regulators work out the particulars of how permanent drinks to go will work.