COLUMBUS, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 669 into law Tuesday, making to-go cocktails permanent in Ohio.
According to the National Hospitality Recovery Association, Ohio is just the second state in the U.S. to make to-go cocktails permanent.
Some restaurants are viewing the move as a major boost during a difficult time.
“It’s been the most challenging year of our existence for sure,” said Shawn Freeman, general manager of The Chocolate Bar on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
The Chocolate Bar, which has been open for nearly 11 years, serves a full menu, in addition to the desserts and martinis for which it’s known. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant closed from March 15 through April 8, then reopened for to-go orders, including to-go martinis.
However, it’s been up and down since then. The restaurant reopened to dining on May 21 but closed again May 30 for seven weeks after the protests downtown before opening once again in July. Since then, Freeman said, things have been “going up.”
“Every week has been better than the previous week,” Freeman said. “People are coming back. We see a lot of people from out of town. It's been a wonderful experience. It's great to see the people coming downtown, but, you know, until we see more events, we need any boost we can get.”
To-go cocktails becoming permanent, Freeman said, would be a great boost to sales.
“Especially with us, I think we offer a unique product,” Freeman said. “I think our martinis and some of our cocktails, you might be able to try and make them. But some of the products we use to make them, you just can't get, and being able to have that experience at home where you can have a creme brûlée martini that's spot-on, or a chocolate salted caramel martini that's spot-on, it’s huge.”
Freeman estimated that when the restaurant was only doing takeout in April and May, there were days when half their sales were from to-go cocktails. He also estimated the restaurant had sold more than 1,000 to-go martinis since reopening April 8, which they pour into plastic containers with tamper-proof seals.
“I think it gives you another option,” Freeman said of to-go drinks. “I think that we've seen a lot of people who have [come] out. But then I've also had people who have told me, ‘This is our first time we've been out.’ So, you know, it's going to give people an option. We love being part of all options.”
He said he believes it can help any business, not just those with a unique product that can’t be made at home.
“I think it's absolutely going to help people, and I hope that every restaurant is taking advantage of it,” Freeman said.
Freeman added that he expects this coming weekend to be the biggest of the year since the pandemic hit, with Sweetest Day, and that a to-go option for prime rib and a martini may be good for people who don’t want to celebrate at a restaurant with other people.
People on East 4th Street downtown had mixed reactions to hearing to-go cocktails would be permanent.
Courtney Graves and Richie Bachala, who live downtown, said they order takeout food often but have not done takeout cocktails, although they do wine subscription services.
“It comes in tiny little bottles, I think, and then you have to make it yourself,” Bachala said of to-go cocktails. “It's like you don't really get the whole feel of it, but you know, you've got to do what you can, I guess.”
Asked whether they would try it going forward, Graves said, “I think possibly, yeah.”
Bachala also noted that he believes to-go cocktails might be a fad.
“People are really learning to buy alcohol and make their own drinks these days,” Bachala said. “So I think it's going to be a new thing and people will probably definitely check it out. But I don't think it's a sustainable thing.”
Grant Pollack, who also lives in Cleveland, said he has gotten to-go cocktails before in Brooklyn, NY, but not in Cleveland. Although he’s been making drinks at home more often these days, he said he would try to-go cocktails.
“To-go cocktails [are] an exciting idea for people who don't feel comfortable being inside restaurants. I think that's a lot of people right now,” Pollack said. “It's interesting to be able to hang out outside and maybe a potentially prettier area or a nicer area, to hang out with your friends rather than being jammed up against the wall in a crowded bar.”
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