Takeout booze extension hopes to buoy restaurant’s recovery from pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With restaurants operating under capacity restrictions during the pandemic, allowing the businesses to also sell alcohol with takeout and delivery orders was another revenue stream to keep them viable.
“This really helped us out,” said Scott Engelman, owner of Truffle Pig and Carl’s Tavern in Steamboat Springs.
Before the pandemic, when they were running behind or someone didn’t have a reservation, customers would be told they could get a drink and wait at the bar. But with bars closed because of COVID-19, Engelman said sometimes people would just leave.
When allowed to sell takeout alcohol, he said the restaurants would instead ask customers to get a drink while they wait, which allowed people to walk around — alcohol in hand — while they waited because of entertainment districts created in downtown Steamboat and near the base of Steamboat Resort.
Engelman, who is also chair of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said this has allowed his restaurants to retain potential customers that otherwise may have left to find a place with more immediate availability. It also allowed them to serve people who were just looking to enjoy a drink and take it with them while they walked around.
Restaurants and other small businesses were first allowed to start selling takeout and delivery alcohol in March 2020 when Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order in hopes it could buoy their bottom lines through the pandemic.
As fears of the legal open carry affecting the business of liquor stores or that downtown would suddenly turn into a frat party never materialized, Engelman said one question came to the mind of a lot of restaurant owners: “How come we haven’t been doing this for the past couple of years?”
If a bipartisan bill continues its present course through the Colorado General Assembly unencumbered — it has received two unanimous votes to move out of separate committees so far — selling to-go booze could become another new normal.
House Bill 21-1027 will now move to the appropriations committee and one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dylan Roberts, said he hopes to have it on the house floor sometime next week.
Roberts, a Democrat from Avon who represents Routt County, said he feels very confident about the bill’s prospects as it continues to work its way through the legislature.
“You can’t take anything for granted at the state Legislature, but I would say I feel very confident that we have put in the work to make this bill workable and well thought out,” Roberts said.
As originally introduced by Roberts, the bill would have simply made legal to-go liquor sales for restaurants and small businesses stay in place when they are set to expire this summer, but negations with stakeholders led to a five-year sunset on the bill, Roberts said.
“A future legislature could come back and pass another bill to extend it further, but because this is such a new process in Colorado, I thought it was appropriate to put that expiration date on there so we can evaluate how it is going,” Roberts said.
Roberts says that over 90% of restaurants in Colorado have utilized the ability to sell takeout alcohol through the course of the pandemic, and many of them have told him it was one of the main reasons they have been able to stay afloat.
It is believed that no public safety issues have arisen because of this practice, and it has not been known to affect the bottom lines of liquor stores, according to Roberts, which have seen sales increase during the pandemic.
“It has worked really well,” Roberts said.
Why extend it further? Roberts says it could be another revenue stream for restaurants, hopefully helping them recover from the pandemic faster than they recovered from the Great Recession.
“It took them much longer than that actual period of recession to recover from what they went through,” Roberts said. “We know that it is going to take restaurants much longer than when the public health emergency is over in the United States from COVID, to recover from this.
“It is fair and equitable and good for our local economies if we allow restaurants some extra sources of revenue for several years as we build out of this.”
If passed, the bill will also give restaurants some assurances that this stream of revenue would be around for enough time to incorporate it into business models. Engelman said it could be particularly helpful in resort communities, allowing restaurants to sell bottles of wine and liquor to guests as they leave their establishments.
Engelman said it benefits consumers because they have more options when buying liquor and it benefits restaurants with the added cash flow that has been crucial during the pandemic and will continue to be as restaurants continue to recover.
“The proposed extension of the liquor variance is something that would be extremely beneficial to our survival moving forward,” Engelman said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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