Dallas restaurants wade through COVID-19 confusion re: mixed drinks

Almost everyone has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but few are tougher than the DFW restaurant community, which has banned on-site dining in restaurants since a decree of March 18 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and only Allowed to take away and contain, service or delivery is fighting for survival.

But Abbott threw a lifeline with a waiver that allowed restaurants to also deliver alcoholic beverages like this:

“Restaurants with a mixed drink permit are allowed to sell beer, wine, or mixed drinks for delivery as long as they are accompanied by food purchased at the restaurant.”

Two words stood out: mixed drinks. Two more words: Mambo Taxi?

Then the confusion began. What “mixed drinks” mean to most people are margaritas with salt on the rim. What the government meant was bottled “cocktails” like Kahlua White Russian.

David Denney, an attorney and the current president of the Dallas Restaurant Association, said he knew Abbott’s announcement would cause confusion.

“In fact, restaurants are not allowed to sell mixed drinks, margaritas, etc. to buy cups, mason jars, gallon jugs, or anything else,” he says. “Yes, the governor’s press release used the term ‘mixed drinks’ and those are the words people focused on – but the words they missed were ‘for delivery’.”

Denney says that some restaurateurs hit by the sharp decline in business saw it as a free pass to sell their own mixed drinks.

“I see – they’re panicking,” he says. “But the law on open containers says you can’t drive with a mixed drink in your car.”

Were restaurateurs angry? Oh, you bet (so were customers).

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission followed Governor Abbott’s waiver with its own memo, making it clear that restaurants are allowed to sell bottles of wine and beer and spirits in sealed containers with a volume of no more than 375 ml.

The agency acknowledged that alcohol sales are an integral part of many restaurants’ business and that the ability to continue selling alcohol is vital to their survival.

It is actually an extension of a recent change that will allow restaurants to deliver alcohol through third-party delivery services like Instacart and Favor, which went into effect in Dallas in December 2019.

According to Denney, the Texas Restaurant Association is asking the state to approve restaurants’ own mixed drinks. However, overwhelmed with securing hospital beds and ventilators for sick people, the government may not find time to respond.

What restaurateurs may not appreciate is that this is still a step forward even without the mixed drinks: It is the first time since Prohibition that TABC allows restaurants to sell alcohol to take away. “It was a big win for restaurants,” says Denney.

But if you sell mixed drinks and post on social media, be careful: the TABC is trolling. Denney says a restaurant was caught red-handed.

“I don’t think you’d lose your permission to get caught the first time, but the rules are what they are,” he says. “We all wish they could only sell take-away drinks – people want it and restaurants need the money.”

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