John Longstreet: Restaurants are still waiting for their drinks to go

After 18 devastating months filled with uncertainty and lost business, restaurants in Pennsylvania have asked state lawmakers to throw a lifeline on them. The request was simple: pass House Bill 1154, which would make take-out cocktails permanent and expand outdoor seating in the state. The bill initially garnered broad bipartisan support, but somehow fell through the cracks when the state Senate was suspended for the summer.

A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association illustrates the high demand for take-out mixed drinks in Pennsylvania. Overall, 79% of adults in Pennsylvania said they were in favor of a proposal that would permanently allow customers to purchase cocktails with their takeout orders from restaurants.

Of those who ordered takeout from a restaurant in the past year, 27% of adults 21 and older included an alcoholic beverage in one of those orders; 67% said that being able to have a drink to go would make them more likely to choose one restaurant over another. Sixteen states now allow cocktails, including neighboring Ohio and West Virginia. The legislation is pending in New Jersey. As we saw with restaurant closures last year, Pennsylvanians near the borders simply ventured into other states where the restaurants were open. The same is likely to happen with on-the-go cocktails.

The Pennsylvania House seems to agree with the public, which is probably why it has adopted a stripped-down version of HB 1154 twice. And once upon a time, the Senate also supported the bill.

Unpredictability still plagues the Pennsylvania business community, especially restaurants. For example, a recent survey indicates that six in 10 adults have changed their restaurant use because of the delta variant. In addition, the recent increase in coronavirus cases has led 37% of adults to order takeout or delivery instead of going to a restaurant, while 19% say they chose to sit outside for dinner due to covid-related issues.

The recent spike in cases has led to new mitigation orders in places like Philadelphia, in addition to the many challenges restaurants already face, including staff shortages and supply chain issues.

Restaurants in Pennsylvania are feeling the effects of the delta variant. In a September survey, 77% of restaurants have seen a decline in indoor dining in recent weeks – that’s with 80% of owners saying sales are now lower than they were in. 2019. This harsh reality makes most restaurateurs expect the worst. ; 21% of operators do not believe that operations will ever return to normal. If there is one thing that restaurateurs and employees can be sure of, it is the continuing uncertainty.

The legislature has moved to extend important waivers to other parts of Pennsylvania’s affected industries – now is the time to show that same support and action for a bill that would help the restaurant industry. The truth is, if restaurants continue on this downward spiral without help, Pennsylvanians will all be affected. It will be more difficult to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, promotions or to have a good meal. By then, it will be too late to do anything. We need to act.

HB 1154 is on the Rules Committee of the Senate. He has not moved to the Senate this summer due to a desire to retain a controversial position that would have allowed the expansion of sales of ready-to-drink spirits cocktails – a position which, although popular with some companies and consumers. consumers would lead to a governor’s veto. You can contact your Senator and urge them to move HB 1154.

The House has already passed bipartisan legislation that the governor will sign. The legislature has repeatedly recognized the importance of getting the economy back to normal and helping businesses recover. HB 1154 is a sensible and widely supported way to equip the restaurant industry with key tools for short-term recovery and long-term business success. This is what the public wants. And supporting this industry that has been decimated for 18 months is just the right thing to do.

John Longstreet is president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Lodging Association.

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