Florida lawmakers appear ready to give final approval to a restaurant industry-backed measure that would make permanent a practice of allowing alcoholic drinks to be included with take-home meals.
The House and Senate have reached a compromise on a bill (SB 148) that would include limits on restaurants that can sell alcoholic drinks with take-home and delivery orders, Senate sponsor Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last spring issued an executive order that included so-called “alcohol to go” to help restaurants forced to scale back operations in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has endorsed making the rule permanent.
“This amendment (the compromise) will codify the existing executive order and allow food establishments in Florida to sell mixed-drink beverages with takeout and delivery food orders,” Bradley said.
The agreement, which drew unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate, would cut off the sale of to-go drinks --- mixed or in bottles --- when restaurants’ scheduled food service ends for the day or at midnight, whichever occurs first.
Drinks would need to be placed in secured containers and placed in locked compartments, vehicle trunks or in areas behind the last upright seats in vehicles. Restaurants would be prohibited from including alcoholic drinks in orders being delivered by people under age 21.
The to-go option would be available to restaurants that have special alcoholic-beverage licenses and derive at least 51 percent of revenue from food and non-alcoholic sales. For restaurants with regular “quota” licenses, food and non-alcoholic drinks would have to account for 60 percent of the orders.
“The Senate's goal has always been to capture true food-service establishments, and I believe this compromise does that,” Bradley said.
With the legislative session ending Friday, the bill will go back to the House, which passed an earlier version by a 115-1 vote on April 14.
The proposal has the backing of a coalition of influential business groups. Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association General Counsel Samantha Padgett told lawmakers in February the proposed legislation offered a “lifeline” for restaurants.
“This is an issue of survival. The hospitality industry has been devastated by the pandemic,” Padgett said. “Some restaurants have closed, and they may never come back. For many that are hanging on and hanging in, alcohol to go has made all the difference.”