Restaurants want state to OK cocktails to go during coronavirus closures

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan restaurant owners are asking the state to allow temporary carry-out and delivery of booze during closures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

The idea is that the drinks would be premixed, packaged and ready for you to enjoy. It’s the latest plan from restaurants to stay afloat during the stay-at-home order. 

Restauranteur Mark Sellers, who created HopCat, Stella’s and other Grand Rapids restaurants, said sit-down establishments need the liquor sales to survive. Sales are down about 90% at his latest venture, Max’s South Seas Hideaway in the Arena District, since it was forced to shut its doors. Sellers said alcohol sales account for about 80% of the profits.

“To pour a drink, it’s a lot less labor-intensive than making hamburger or making a steak,” Sellers explained. “You need cooks and dishwashers and a lot of labor for that.”

Now, Sellers and other restaurant owners from across the state are asking Michigan to enact a temporary executive order to allow the sale of packaged single-serving cocktails, along with other spirts. More than 4,500 people have signed an online petition

Other states have already implemented similar orders. Ohio is one of the latest. The Ohio Liquor Control Commission passed an emergency rule to allow establishments with an existing liquor license to sell and deliver alcohol. There’s a two-drink limit per meal and drinks must be sealed during delivery. IDs are checked, just like they would be at a restaurant. 

“It should be implemented as soon as possible because every day we are losing money,” Sellers said. “And I’m not saying ‘we’ as in my restaurant. I mean the whole industry.”

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission told News 8 it has no intention of taking up the issue, adding that the commission feels it’s a “bad public policy.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did sign a new executive order Monday that orders the MLCC to launch a liquor buy-back program for bars and restaurants to help bear some of the financial burden. The commission would use its revolving fund to buy spirits at full price if they were bought before March 16. Bars and restaurants would sign up to participate online.

“Michigan’s 8,500 on-premises liquor licensees continue to make unprecedented sacrifices to help slow the spread of COVID-19 across our state,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This buy-back program will help our bars and restaurants critical to Michigan’s economy weather the storm through this challenging time in our history.”

Once bars and restaurants are allowed to resume normal operations, they could repurchase the booze from the state within 90 days.