Florida Set to Permanently Allow To-Go Alcoholic Drinks Post-Pandemic

The Florida legislature is set to pass a restaurant industry–backed bill which would extend the practice of allowing alcoholic beverages in "to-go" orders, a rule initially put in place as a means of helping struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis last spring issued an executive order which has come to be know as the "alcohol to go" rule, which has allowed restaurants to sell boozy beverages alongside take-home orders during the pandemic. This week, Republican and Democratic state lawmakers alike are expected to give overwhelming final approval that will make the measure permanent into the post-pandemic era. DeSantis endorsed making the rule permanent during remarks last week.

State senate sponsor Jennifer Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, touted Wednesday compromises between the House and Senate, which agreed to cut off mixed-drink beverage sales at midnight or when establishments stop selling food for the day. Whichever time comes first. Additionally, eligible restaurants must make at least 51 percent of their revenue from food or non-alcohol sales. Florida restaurants with standard "quota" liquor licenses would need to show that food accounts for 60 percent of their overall sales.

"This amendment [the compromise] will codify the existing executive order and allow food establishments in Florida to sell mixed-drink beverages with takeout and delivery food orders," Bradley told the Sun-Sentinel. "The Senate's goal has always been to capture true food-service establishments, and I believe this compromise does that."

The compromise between Florida House and Senate members from both parties would cap individual alcohol container sizes at 32 ounces and would require motorists to place the beverages in locked compartments, in their trunk or in areas behind the the "last upright seats in vehicles." The CB/SB 148 legislation is expected to pass by the end of the legislative session Friday.

Two Democratic state senators, Lauren Book of Plantation and Aubrey Gibson of Jacksonville, were the only dissenting votes Wednesday. And in the House, which passed the bill 115-1 on April 14, the lone opposing vote was Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough.

The proposal has the backing of a numerous influential business groups including the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. General Counsel for the hospitality group, Samantha Padgett, told lawmakers in February that the "alcohol to go" bill continues to offer a "lifeline" to many struggling establishments.

"This is an issue of survival. The hospitality industry has been devastated by the pandemic," Padgett said. "Some restaurants have closed, and they may never come back. For many that are hanging on and hanging in, alcohol to go has made all the difference."

But Florida's booze news is not unanimously anti-restriction. In Miami Beach, commissioners voted Wednesday to temporarily restrict late-night drinking in the South Beach. The legislation includes a temporary 2 a.m. "last call" cutoff for about 44 bars, restaurants and hotels that currently operate under the 5 a.m. last call in effect citywide, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday.

Newsweek reached out to DeSantis' office Wednesday afternoon for additional remarks on the legislation.

florida alcohol to go law
People stand in line to order food for pick up on a deserted Ocean drive in Miami, on March 18, 2020. Last spring, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order, now known as the "alcohol to go" rule. This week, Republican and Democratic state lawmakers alike are expected to give overwhelming final approval, making the measure permanent. CHANDAN KHANNA / Contributor/Getty Images