In March, when the Texas restaurant industry had the emergency brake slammed on it, Gov. Greg Abbott threw it a life ring: As part of the disaster proclamation, for the first time ever restaurants were allowed to sell booze to go and for curbside pickup.
As owners and operators have struggled to keep their restaurants afloat and staff paid, many found ways to use alcohol kits to entice thirsty customers. (Here’s a chart that helps explain what is and isn't allowed.)
“It’s been huge, actually,” brand president of Rusty Taco Brendan Mauri says about their margaritas to go. “If we rewind back to mid-March, we were operating with a bare-bones crew at all of our locations.”
They figured out how to package their house-made mix of lime juice and simple syrup into sealed containers and purchased small tequila bottles to be poured at home. Then everything changed.
“It provided an overall lift. There was enough of an increase in food and drink orders that after that, we were literally able to double our staff,” Mauri says.
Customers enjoy it, too.
Shawn and Hara Murphy of Plano placed their first takeout order at Rusty Taco after weeks of social distancing and were giddy when they realized they could also order margaritas to go.
Autumn Rose of Arlington has ordered Mambo Taxis from Mi Cocina and margaritas from Uncle Julio's.
“You can get tacos from lots of places, but the cocktails make the difference,” Rose says.
Texas distillers we spoke to see no harm in it. Dan Garrison of Garrison and Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas, fully supports the sale of mixed drink kits to go.
“All the distillers I know fully support direct sales from distillers, tasting rooms, bars, restaurants and retailers,” Garrison wrote in an email. “Consumers have been demanding it for decades. Let’s give them what they deserve and save the Texas restaurant industry now.”
Russell Louis, CEO and distiller at Herman Marshall Whiskey, is all game, too.
“We think it’s great. It’s been crucial for the bar and restaurant industry right now,” Louis says.
Community Beer Co. sees curbside booze pickup as a great opportunity for restaurants.
“We think that to-go beer and cocktails, like food to go, are great ways for restaurants to continue to generate much-needed revenue, which is crucial, especially at a time like this,” Corey Dickinson of Community says.
Hints of this alcohol-infused, micro-stimulus plan reached Abbott, evident by his April 28 tweet:
Note he followed those words with a very important and oh-so-telling hashtag: #txlege.
Meaning, the Legislature will have to pass a law in order to keep booze to-go. (And anyone who followed the craft brewers' fight to sell beer to go just slammed their heads on their keyboard.)
Because here's the thing, according to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, the drinks to-go waiver will come to a halt when the state disaster declaration is over.
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So Rusty Taco is starting to rally the troops now. The restaurant was originally founded in 2010 by Dallasite Rusty Fenton, but has since been bought by Inspire Brands. They also own Sonic (gasp, can you imagine booze to go with a Slush? How much easier would that make things?) and Buffalo Wild Wings. They already have their government relations team on the issue.
Mauri says they hope that by starting to beat the drum soon, Texans will get behind the effort and write them letters or maybe even have a Mambo Taxi delivered to their favorite congressperson’s office. They’ve started a Change.org petition calling for the removal of all restrictions, helping businesses deliver alcoholic beverages. At the time of publishing, the petition had more than 2,300 signatures.
The time to rally is needed. The governor didn’t hashtag the Legislature because he just can’t end a tweet without hash-tagging something. Moving liquor bills through the Legislature is typically a multi-session effort that involves three tiers of complications.
For example, the first bill to allow craft brewers to sell beer on-site was introduced in 2007 and that bill never even made it out of committee. The first six-pack that was sold from a brewer was in September of 2019 — 12 years later.