UPDATE: April 12, 2022: Gov. Kathy Hochul signed New York's fiscal 2023 budget deal, including the temporary legalization of to-go alcohol through 2025, on Saturday, public records show. The bill signed by Hochul also establishes a commission staffed by state officials and appointees of the governor and legislature to study the implementation and possible reform of New York's alcohol control law, according to a statement released by Hochul's office. The commission's goal is to "modernize and simplify the state's alcohol laws and regulations."
- The New York State Senate and Assembly passed a budget deal Thursday, which includes making the sale and delivery of to-go cocktails legal for three years.
- The bill applies to restaurants and other retail license holders that sell alcohol on-premises, but requires customers to buy "a substantial food item." Sales are limited to the restaurant's normal hours of operation.
- The budget deal will go to Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing soon. Hochul announced her support for the specific provision legalizing to-go cocktails on Twitter.
We're legalizing to-go drinks — to support small businesses and because I know we could all use a drink! pic.twitter.com/tLLMgzb512— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) April 7, 2022
The bill that passed both houses of the state legislature and awaits the governor's signature is not a blanket legalization. Customers must purchase a substantial food item to accompany their alcoholic drinks, although the law does not define what that means.
The bill includes other restrictions as well. To-go alcoholic drinks, for example, must be sold "in a container with a secure lid or cap sealed in a manner designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap by breaking the seal."
During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York state allowed the sale of to-go alcohol to help keep restaurants afloat. But that practice ended when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared the end of the state of emergency in June 2021.
The policy, however, has continued to garner support even after it ended. Gov. Hochul backed the idea for the permanent legalization of to-go drinks in her State of State address in January. The budget deal legalizes the sale of to-go drinks for three years following its passage, and if not renewed will be considered repealed.
In a statement given before the passage of the budget deal, New York City Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie praised the inclusion of the to-go alcoholic drinks provision.
"We toast the leadership of [state lawmakers] who’ve worked to reinstate this balanced and reasonable 'drinks to go' policy that will aid in the restaurant industry’s recovery, update our antiquated prohibition-era liquor laws, and return a popular policy to New Yorkers," Rigie said.
Other jurisdictions have contemplated similar legislative initiatives, with at least 16 states and the District of Columbia permanently legalizing to-go drinks. In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill legalizing the practice until the end of 2026, while Virginia recently extended cocktails to-go until 2024. With to-go alcohol legal, or about to become legal, in major restaurant markets, it's clear some of the regulatory leeway granted restaurants as part of pandemic relief has become a normal and expected part of the foodservice industry.