Minnesota restaurants will be able to sell beer and wine with to-go orders during the coronavirus closures under an agreement expected to get final approval in the Legislature on Friday.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday that allows restaurants with liquor licenses to sell up to one bottle of wine or the equivalent of a six pack of beer, cider or hard seltzer with food orders. Cocktails and mixed drinks will remain off the menu.
The House is expected to follow suit on Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Tim Walz, who has indicated he will sign it. The new off-sale rule would go into effect the following day.
Restaurant owners have been lobbying to make the temporary change in the wake of the state-ordered closures, arguing that beer and liquor sales can make up close to half their revenue under normal circumstances.
Those calls intensified this week amid behind-the-scenes negotiations between legislators and industry groups. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, tweeted that they had reached an agreement late Wednesday night. In a change from an earlier proposal, the new language lowers the limit on sales from two bottles of wine or two six packs. All products must be sold in their original containers and along with food orders.
Municipalities will be able to opt out of the change, said Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point. The temporary authorization would expire as soon as restaurants can reopen for in-person service. The current closures, which started a month ago, are in effect through May 4.
Many restaurant and bar owners wanted to see cocktails and other forms of liquor covered by the proposal. But Republican state Rep. Jon Koznick, one of the sponsors of the original legislation, said this week that industry groups had expressed concerns about the safety of selling open containers.
The bill that legislators passed will likely result in a 10% or 15% boost in what restaurants are making, said Brent Frederick of Jester Concepts, the hospitality company behind a number of Twin Cities restaurants, including Parlour and Monello. On average, their restaurants’ revenue has dropped about 80%, he said.
“We missed the boat a little bit, but something is better than nothing,” said Frederick, whose restaurants specialize in craft cocktails. The majority of their beverage revenue comes from spirits. “We’re now competing with liquor stores, so we now have to offer something they don’t have or we have to lower our prices incredibly,” he said.
The state Senate voted to pass the measure 65-2 as it was drafted, casting aside several proposed amendments. DFL Sen. Kari Dziedzic, for example, said the virus has devastated her northeast Minneapolis district, which includes many taprooms. She proposed an amendment to allow breweries to have a similar to-go option and allow distilleries to sell one more bottle than they can now.
Housley said that while she supports many of the ideas lawmakers proposed to alter the bill, any changes could bog down the carefully crafted deal.
“We need to do what we can get done today,” Housley said, and she hopes they can work on relief for distillers, brewers and others in the future.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents liquor stores, bars and restaurants, was involved in crafting the legislation and supported the limited version the Senate passed Thursday.
“This is about providing additional sources of revenue for restaurants, which will assist in economic opportunities — and jobs,” the association wrote.
Twenty-eight other states are allowing bars and restaurants to serve takeaway drinks in some form during the pandemic, including New York, Colorado and Wisconsin.
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.