UPDATE, May 12, 2020: This article has been updated with additional comments from Rusty Taco.
- Inspire Brands' Rusty Taco is petitioning Texas Governor Greg Abbott to make to-go alcohol permanently available. About 3,000 people have signed the Change.org petition. That is about 2,000 shy of the company's goal.
- The state eased alcohol restrictions in March, providing waivers to allow restaurants to deliver beer, wine and mixed drinks with food orders. The governor tweeted on April 29, "From what I hear from Texans, we may just let this keep on going forever," after the state extended alcohol-to-go beyond May 1 for restaurants already offering them.
- Similar restrictions were eased in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, and Rusty Taco said in the petition that it has served thousands of margaritas across its restaurants.
Selling alcoholic beverages with food could attract customers, especially since alcohol sales make up 20% to 30% of restaurant sales in the country, according to Eater. Off-premise alcohol was a relatively untapped opportunity for restaurants before the pandemic, with only a handful of states allowing alcohol for delivery.
Buffalo Wild Wings, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays and BJ's Restaurant offered off-premise alcohol in 2019.
With stay-at-home orders in effect, chains and independents have offered bottled beer and wine and cocktails to try and recoup some losses. Alcohol to-go for Taco Cabana, also in Texas, helped bring back new and lax customers, Rich Stockinger, president and CEO of Fiesta Restaurant Group, said during the company's Q1 2020 earnings call. With the offering of $2 margaritas and gallon-margarita packages for $34.99, the company had a record-setting Cinco de Mayo, selling 60,000 alcoholic beverages, and comps were up 61.5% compared to Cinco de Mayo in 2019.
Rusty Taco began marketing to-go margaritas on Facebook on April 15, and continued to market the offerings alongside family packs through Cinco de Mayo, a particularly busy time for Mexican food chains.
Rusty Taco has seen a surge of interest in its margaritas over the past few weeks and sales spiked on Cinco de Mayo, Brendan Mauri, Rusty Taco president, told Restaurant Dive. Margarita sales doubled across its system since it began selling them to go and it has needed to increase staffing, doubling labor in some restaurants, to keep up with demand in a few states, he said.
"While it’s helped lift sales lately, I think having to-go alcohol sales may mean even more to our guests," Mauri said. That was part of the inspiration for this campaign, seeing the love our fans had for the newfound ability to order margs to-go. So, taking a public stance on an issue that matters to the brand and our guests was an easy decision to make."
Following the Change.org petition, customers have responded favorably, with one Facebook poster saying, "Finally something I can get passionate about. Wish I had a yard sign to put up," which Rusty taco later sent to the customer, according to Mauri.
Rusty Taco definitely has an impetus to keep margaritas available to-go and for delivery, with many customers expected to make a slow return to restaurant dining rooms. Alcohol to-go could also benefit restaurants by providing convenient options for Memorial Day and Fourth of July.