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Hagerstown Herald-Mail: Carryout alcohol sales offer Maryland restaurants a lifeline...

Sept. 12, 2020

By Madeleine O'Neill USA Today Network


Somehow, in the middle of a pandemic, sales on Mother's Day were up this year at Dan's Restaurant and Tap House in Boonsboro.

Carryout cocktails, served in mason jars, played a big role.

"We could not believe it," said Charlotte Aufdem-Brinke, the restaurant's co-owner. "We ran out of mason jars to sell."

In normal times, Dan's Tap House wouldn't be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks to go. But like other struggling eateries and taverns across Maryland, Dan's benefitted from emergency rules that have allowed carryout and delivery service for beer, wine and cocktails while in-person seating is limited.

"There's no question that it saved us," Aufdem-Brinke said.

Now, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot wants to make the change permanent.

"These temporary, emergency solutions lifting some of the heavy-handed regulations of alcohol delivery have been lifesaving to their businesses," Franchot said in an interview.

Franchot wants Gov. Larry Hogan to extend his March 19 emergency order, which allowed carryout alcohol sales, through the end of the next legislative session so that lawmakers have a chance to enact the changes in statute.

In an email, Hogan spokesperson Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill said the alcohol carryout order is linked with the state of emergency, "which we expect to remain in place for the foreseeable future."

"We are aware of the comptroller's interest in this issue, and will certainly keep it mind as we go forward," DeLeaver-Churchill said.

Aufdem-Brinke agrees with Franchot that continuing carryout alcohol sales would help businesses jump-start the long, slow process of rebuilding.

"This is an excellent, commonsense, tangible solution that will go a long way toward our recovery and toward the recovery of small bars and restaurants throughout the state," she said.

At Evolution Craft Brewing in Salisbury, Md., selling six-packs of beer and cocktails to go has brought back a chunk of the business that was lost when the coronavirus pandemic left restaurants and bars mostly empty for months.

Sales are still off about 20% from a normal year, owner Tom Knorr said, but things would be about 8% worse without alcohol sales.

"In the restaurant business, we work on pennies," Knorr said. "It's a pretty big number for us."

Even as Maryland enters stage 3 of its pandemic recovery plan, restaurants across the state must still limit indoor seating to 50% capacity.

Alcohol sales are helping to make up some of the difference, Knorr said.

"It's just very helpful in bridging the difference in sales with the lower capacity," he said.

Jim Doll, the owner of Village Spirits in Smithsburg, said he sees pros and cons to letting carryout alcohol continue permanently. It's hard to gauge how the change might affect liquor stores like his, he said.

"When it goes back to normal, whatever normal is, how much carryout are restaurants going to do?" he asked.

Doll is also the president of the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association, and he knows how beneficial carryout alcohol has been to restaurants and breweries.

He said he personally doesn't oppose extending the new carryout alcohol rules "as long as there are proper guidelines that everybody follows, whatever they may be."

Carryout dining and alcohol sales, plus the addition of outdoor dining and indoor dining at 50% capacity, have brought Dan's Restaurant and Tap House to about 75% of normal sales, Aufdem-Brinke said.

Early in the pandemic, before takeout alcohol sales were allowed, the tap house's business dropped to about 15% of normal sales, she said. Just by adding alcohol to carryout food orders, sales jumped to 50%.

"Even after recovery, I think it's a convenience that would be very commonsense," she said.

Franchot, who has said he plans to run for governor in 2022, hopes that lawmakers will see it that way.

He has battled with legislators over alcohol before. In 2019, after a messy fight, the General Assembly voted to strip Franchot's office of its alcohol and tobacco enforcement authority and move it to a new commission.

Franchot has cast himself as an Annapolis outsider and a friend of Maryland's craft beer industry. He said recently he has not spoken with many legislators about his proposal to make changes to Maryland's alcohol rules permanent.

"They don’t like it being suggested that they're controlled by out-of-state beer companies," he said.

But while a legislative battle may be brewing, Knorr and Aufdem-Brinke said they're happy for the reprieve — and hope it will last longer.

"It's going to take a while to heal all of this," Knorr said. "Any little bit of advantage or more of a convenience for the consumer that a restaurant can provide and get sales from will help us get back."

https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/carryout-alcohol-sales-offer-maryland-restaurants-a-lifeline-that-could-become-permanent/article_ee7a487f-f375-5f1f-82b6-fd6ae69d929c.html



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