What cocktails-to-go mean for consumers and businesses

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced this week that bars and restaurants will be permitted to sell single-serve cocktails for carryout and delivery, which could help ease some of the hardships these businesses face. 

As Whitmer announced this relaxed measure, she also said bars could no longer serve indoors, but may serve in outdoor spaces with socially distanced tables. And though this week's order doesn't affect restaurants, they're still operating at half capacity. 

Area restaurant chain El Charro boasted selling house-made sangria and margaritas to go on Thursday, just after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the relaxed law.

Alcoholic beverages sold to-go can be made in a batch in advance, but should only be put into a qualified container once a sale is made and then sealed by the bar or restaurant employee. 

"A qualified container is a clean, sealable container that has a liquid capacity of one gallon or less," reads an explanation on the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website. "After the container is filled it must be sealed with a device or material that is used to fully close off the container securely.  The container can have no perforations or straw holes."

Also, for cocktails sold as part of a delivery order, the vessels must be labeled clearly with the phrase "Contains Alcohol. Must be delivered to a persons 21 years or older." 

Weeks ago Robyn Cleveland helped spearhead a petition to allow the sale of cocktails to-go in Michigan. The former bartender and now co-owner and head distiller of Norden Aquavit spirit company, Cleveland says he and others who promoted the petition to get the law changed didn't understand why bars could sell beer and liquor to-go but not cocktails. 

"From a business owner perspective, it’s important to be able to have options to generate revenue. That was a big motivator for us," he said, adding that they were hoping to make this official sooner but still believes Wednesday's announcement was a victory. 

"I’m happier in the long-run with it being a permanent law versus an executive order as you can see with the quick turnaround for shutting us back down for indoor bar service," he said. "It’s a lot for operators to deal with having to pivot constantly, so something stable is nice to have for sure."

While this allowance will be helpful for restaurants that can now add cocktails to carryout food menus, Cleveland knows it won't be a simple fix for neighborhood bars and those who rely on volume of drinks sold. 

"The small neighborhood bar that really is focused on a shot-and-a-beer are still going to have huge difficulties," he said. "I think this benefits restaurants and bars with food the most, as an add-on situation. Cocktail bars that are already known for their craft, and with their customer base being more comfortable with a premium offering, may benefit from it as well."

Just a day after Whitmer made the announcement that cocktails to-go were green lit, some area bars and restaurants let customers know they're on board. 

Area Tex-Mex chain El Charro boasted being able to sell 16-, 32- and 64-ounce drinks along with their tacos, enchiladas, burritos and other house specialties. 

"The wait is over," reads a Facebook post. "Enjoy our house-made sangria or your favorite classic, fruit or premium margaritas from the comfort of your home."

Bagley Central, a rock and roll hangout and craft cocktail lounge in Detroit, had to close again with Whitmer's Wednesday order, but on Thursday started advertising bottled mixed drinks for curbside carryout, along with wine and build-your-own-six-pack beer.

"Its nice to sell product out the door, but our real purpose as a pub is a place for people to come and interact with each other," said owner Mike Ketelhut. "This will hopefully help us survive the pandemic and keep my team out of harm's way."

Another craft cocktail lounge, Barter in Hamtramck, also quickly announced they would sell carryout cocktails. Co-owner Jake Goodrich called the measure "a step in the right direction." Thursday night will be their first night selling them and they're hoping for the best. 

“We’re excited that we’ll still be able to offer patrons our cocktails, beer and wine that they can enjoy at home," he said. "In terms of short- or long-term impact, we honestly don’t know what to expect."

Jeff Applebaum of Gold Star Products in Oak Park thought he may have a rush of bar and restaurant owners and managers looking to buy containers for to-go cocktails today, but he's only had a couple customers ask about them. 

"I think people are a little unsure of the new cocktail law," he said, adding that he did have a Zoom meeting with the sales staff Thursday morning to prepare for a possible influx of these kinds of purchases. 

"The ones we sell are more like a cup with a clip-on lid, like a Slurpee or a copy at McDonald's but with no straw opening," he said. "We're excited for cocktails to-go."

More:Whitmer orders indoor bars closed in most of lower Michigan

More:Count the ways to celebrate Michigan Craft Beer Month

Gallery:Drinking and dining in old Detroit


Twitter: @melodybaetens