With alcohol to go sales ending, liquor rules need more permanent reforms

One of the practices we noticed during the pandemic was the temporary suspension of some regulations. However, now that the pandemic seems to be coming to an end, and things are coming back to normal, the state is rolling back some of those repeals. One of these being the ability for restaurants to sell beer and alcohol to-go with food.

Since April 2020, Minnesotans had been able to order one bottle of wine and up to six cans of beer, cider or hard seltzer to go with their takeout meals under a bill Walz signed that month. State lawmakers touted the measure as a way to keep bars and restaurants afloat at a time when dining rooms across the Minnesota were ordered shut in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Baked into the language of the bill was a provision to terminate it once the executive orders affecting bars and restaurants expired, meaning “establishments with an on-sale liquor license can no longer provide alcohol along with take-out food orders or deliveries,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division wrote on its website last week.

Since it was instated as a temporary measure, it is not surprising that this rule is being rolled back. However, the issue still remains to be said that alcohol rules in Minnesota are restrictive, especially starting with off-site sales for craft breweries. Craft breweries are only allowed to sell in growlers, containers that consumers did not particularly like during the pandemic.

The flexibility provided by the suspension of this rule is clearly important to the hospitality industry, as expressed by some retailers, and the suspension rollback will have some effect.

Annie Henderson, co-owner of Forager Brewery in Rochester, Minn., said she received a notice about the rollback just two days before it took effect.

“Which was a pretty big bummer because we had ordered, you know, like 80 cases of beer to sell to go,” she said.

Clearly, going forward, retailers would benefit from a more permanent measure advancing a freer liquor industry in the state, e.g., the Drink Local Act.