Published in Food/Agribusiness
Whitmer signs bar, restaurant relief package expanding alcohol sales MIBIZ PHOTO: MARK SANCHEZ

Whitmer signs bar, restaurant relief package expanding alcohol sales

BY Wednesday, July 01, 2020 12:16pm

LANSING — Michigan restaurants and bars are now able to expand alcohol sales as well as the area where patrons can consume drinks. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills today that allows for the sale of cocktails-to-go and alcohol consumption in established social districts. Lawmakers passed the legislation with broad support a week ago. 

The bill package — SB 942, HB 5811 and HB 5781 — is geared to helping the service industry, which has included businesses hardest hit during the pandemic. The changes will be in effect through 2025. The legislation includes: 

  • Raising the 17 percent discount on spirits purchased from the state by an on-premises account to 23 percent for a year.
  • Allowing for the sale of drinks-to-go and the delivery of drinks by on-premises licensees until Dec. 31, 2025.
  • Allowing two-for-one pricing on drinks sold in a licensed establishment.
  • Increasing the amount of spirits an on-premises account can purchase from an off-premises account from nine liters per month (108 liters per year) to 120 liters per year with no monthly cap.
  • Creating an exception to the aid and assistance rule to allow a manufacturer to refund a wholesaler for expired products.
  • Allowing small distilleries to sell drinks to go and samples in the licensed establishments.
  • Allow local governmental units the authority to establish social districts with a common area that multiple on-premises licensees can use to increase sales via permit until Dec. 31, 2024.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association has been “working on some of these changes for more than a year-and-a-half and it’s great to finally see them make it to the finish line,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “These changes will be tremendously helpful in ensuring that bars, restaurants and the entire hospitality industry gets back on its feet and remains a staple of Michigan’s overall economy.”

Max’s South Seas Hideaway tiki bar in downtown Grand Rapids is toasting the new legislation by selling a new lineup of cocktails in 8-ounce cans starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Max’s had been pre-packaging non-alcoholic cocktail mixes, but now will be able to roll out its new line of canned cocktails to go with fresh juices, syrups and top-shelf liquor. 

“We have a long way to go to recover from this unprecedented pandemic, but this step by the legislature and Governor Whitmer to enable restaurants and bars to responsibly package cocktails to go is an important step,” Max’s owner Mark Sellers said in a statement. “Prior to the pandemic, cocktails made up about 50 percent of our sales at Max’s, so this will help us grow while we balance increased takeout demand alongside our reopened dining rooms and bars.”

Sellers also is the founder of BarFly Ventures LLC, the parent company of HopCat, Stella’s Lounge and Grand Rapids Brewing Co. BarFly Ventures filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy June 3 after accruing debt in the past few years to expand locations outside of Michigan.

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