NewsLocal News


Carry-out cocktails: How a new proposal could benefit Wisconsin restaurants, bars

Some restaurants, bars may sell to-go mixed drinks under new proposal
Posted at 10:48 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 23:49:03-05

GREEN BAY (NBC26) — Some Wisconsin restaurants and bars may be able to sell carry-out cocktails and wine under a new proposal from state Republican lawmakers.

The bill from State Rep. David Steffen, (R) 4th Assembly District, and State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, (R) 12th Senate District, would allow establishments with a Class B liquor license to sell to-go mixed drinks and wine by the glass in a container with a tamper evident seal, like a growler.

"The restaurants and bars that I'm speaking with are really, really struggling," Steffen said. "If we want to retain them as an important part of our economy, our community, our culture here in Wisconsin, we can't let the speed of government be involved in this one. We need to move as quickly as possible."

Tim Kuehn, owner of Margarita's of Green Bay, pushed for the proposal.

Kuehn said sales at Margarita's are down about 25 percent as a result of the pandemic.

Takeout orders, on the other hand, are on the rise, now accounting for 25 percent of business. Before the pandemic, Kuehn said takeout only made up about 1 percent of sales.

Due to the increase in demand for carry-out meals, Kuehn said to-go margaritas would increase sales and help minimize the pandemic's financial impact on the establishment.

"Seventy-percent of our sales are food and 30 percent are liquor," Kuehn said. "We look at it that we'd hopefully be able to make our to-go orders 30 percent larger than they are now."

Kuehn said the containers would be sealed in-house. An employee would check customer's I.D. before giving them the to-go drink.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Restaurant Association support the "Cocktails-to-go" bill.

As of October 1, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association estimates one in every 10 restaurants have permanently closed across the state.

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said the hope is this proposal could help restaurants keep the doors open while operators wait for an end to capacity limitations and the start of widespread vaccine distribution.

"At a restaurant or a bar, the profit margin on their sales is actually in the alcohol sales. It's not as much in the food," Hillmer said. "So that's a lot of the one thing they're missing as they try to survive the pandemic and survive the economic outcome of this, is that without those alcohol sales, it's just one less thing that they can take advantage of. This gives them that option."

More than 30 states in the U.S. already allow to-go cocktails and glasses of wine.

Kuehn said it's time Wisconsin gives it a try.

"I think this is a good opportunity to roll it out and see if we can do it safely," Kuehn said. "Let's see how it works."

Steffen said he's hopeful the bill will be voted on in the Assembly in January. He expects bipartisan and bicameral support.

Hillmer said the WRA is looking to bring another proposal to the table that would allow alcohol delivery for businesses that already deliver food. She said that bill is expected to be brought forward shortly.