Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1480 into law April 14, allowing bars, breweries, wineries and restaurants with liquor licenses an extension to the curbside and to-go sale of premixed cocktails, beer, wine and other alcohol products until July 1, 2023.
The bill passed the State House on February 25 by a wide 86-12 margin, and passed the Senate by an even wider 46-3 vote. The original bill was signed in May 2020 as a way to help restaurants generate revenue while the governor’s ban on in-person dining was still in effect.
When the law was first passed, The Northern Light asked local restaurant owners about how the to-go sales could help them stay afloat amidst an economically devastating pandemic. Now, nearly a year later, those same restaurant owners say the ruling has granted them some much-needed options and relief, and some are asking for the law to stay permanent.
Miguel Ramos, owner of Paso Del Norte, said his sales jumped immediately once the state allowed for pre-mixed cocktails to be served curbside. When they began advertisement for margarita kits, Ramos says his sales doubled.
“We started advertising,” Ramos said. “And for one week we’re doing, like $4,000 a week. Next week, we’re doing $10,000.”
That jump in sales is exactly why the liquor and cannabis board decided to temporarily relax restrictions for curbside alcohol sales. HB 1480 stated that the bill was created to help the state hospitality industry that has “suffered some of the most devastating impacts of any sector of the state’s economy.”
For Joni Finston, co-owner of The Vault Wine Bar & Bistro in Blaine, having the flexibility of in-person dining and to-go sales has been a game-changer.
“[To-go alcohol sales] increases our footprint,” Finston said. “If we’re at 25, 50 percent capacity, we’re limited. So to have an evening where we have even 10 orders to go helps tremendously.”
But others in the industry, like Bob’s Burgers and Brew Birch Bay general manager Cody Bowden, said that once in-person dining was allowed again, demand for to-go alcohol began to die down.
“I think if we stayed closed, our to-go revenue would probably spike again for alcohol,” Bowden said. “Right now, I wouldn’t say it’s a major contributor to our to-go sales.”
This continued relaxation of alcohol guidelines has led some restaurant owners to wonder if these changes can be permanent.
“People are going to be starting to get used to [to-go alcohol],” Bowden said. “I think it’s going to be really hard for them to take that away. The extension, it’s nice, but my personal opinion is if you’re going to do it until 2023, why not just make it a law now?”
The ruling was originally set to expire 30 days after a restaurant’s county had entered phase 4 of the state’s restart plan, but now is set to expire on July 1, 2023 if no new action is taken by the state legislature to extend or permanently codify the current guideline.