California Lawmakers Pass Bill Allowing To-Go Alcohol Sales Until 2026

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California restaurants could be able to serve to-go alcoholic beverages alongside takeout orders until 2026 under a bill newly approved by the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 389 passed with unanimous votes in the Senate and Assembly and was officially approved Thursday. It now heads to the governor's desk.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, the bill's author, said the intention of SB 389 is to help restaurants recover from the impacts of COVID-19. The California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control first announced that alcohol could be sold for pickup or delivery in March 2020.

Since then, restaurants across the state have taken to using to-go alcohol as a way to bolster sales. In a survey of restaurant owners, the National Restaurant Association found that 78% of restaurants that sold takeout alcohol during the pandemic rehired previously laid-off employees, while only 62% of restaurants overall have.

"Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic and the ability to sell carry-out cocktails has been critical to ensuring they can survive," Dodd said in a statement. "Making this permanent will assist their recovery, protecting jobs and our economy."

Under SB 389, to-go alcohol can be sold only alongside a meal, with a limit of two drinks per meal. The bill also places restrictions on what containers alcohol may be sold in and the concentration of alcohol in mixed drinks.

As of June, the ABC's regulatory relief allowing restaurants to sell to-go alcohol is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021. But if SB 389 is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, restaurants may continue to do so until Dec. 31, 2026, at which point the bill will be considered repealed.

In a statement, Matt Sutton, senior vice president of the California Restaurant Association, applauded the bill, saying that to-go alcohol sales during the pandemic had been "a successful trial project" and would continue to help restaurants seeking to rebuild.

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