Amending RCW 66.24.400 to Legalize “Take-Away” Cocktails
Updated: May 7, 2020
UPDATE: Earlier today, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board unexpectedly announced a policy/rules change that legalizes eating and drinking establishments selling take-away cocktails with the purchase of food while county and above level COVID-19 "quarantine" restrictions are in place. For the time being this is excellent news; nonetheless, allowing the sale of take-away cocktails, long-term, will allow for a significant source of revenue for independent eating and drinking establishments, and should be made permanent by amending RCW 66.24.400 et al to permanently allow for take-away cocktails.
As we enter week seven of quarantine, one issue that has likely come up for nearly every Washington State eating and drinking establishment is whether they offer “take-out” or “take-away” cocktails.
Throughout the United States, take-away cocktails offered by eating and drinking establishments due-to mandatory COVID-19 closures have proven exceptionally popular. But take away cocktails are not allowed in every state, including Washington State.
Washington State law prohibits licensed eating and drinking establishments from selling pre-mixed cocktails for takeaway even if placed into a sealed container. See RCW 66.24.400. Patrons may purchase a bottle of wine, sake, or soju at an establishment, consume part of it there, have the partially consumed bottle (re)sealed by the establishment, and then are free to leave the establishment with the sealed bottle. However, such a practice in any form is not allowed for “cocktails”.
Consequently, the Liquor and Cannabis Board as well as Governor Jay Inslee have taken the position that under present law, take-away cocktails are not allowed to be sold by licensees.
That said, at a time when many Washington State independent restaurants are struggling, “take-away” cocktails would provide a valuable source of revenue while the restaurant and hospitality industry adapt to the post-pandemic normal. In order to legalize “take-away” cocktails, RCW 66.24.400 and/or related statutes could readily be amended by legislation to include a section adding a new endorsement for license holders to sell pre-made cocktails in sealed bottles. Ordinarily such a change would need to wait until the next legislative session, which is not until January 2021; however, here this is not likely the case.
Due to the economic effects of COVID-19, within the next several months, Gov. Inslee will likely call a special session of the legislature to address budget shortfalls as well as challenges facing small businesses and others due to COVID-19.
Assuming that a special session takes place, this would be an opportune time for independent restaurants across Washington State to join together to advocate for legislation to amend RCW 66.24.400 and/or related statutes for the purpose of legalizing the sale by licensees of sealed “take-away” cocktails.
To date, no such legislation has been proposed. Nonetheless, it is probably one of many ideas that should be on the legislative agenda(s) for eating and drinking establishments within Washington State as businesses seek to survive the COVID-19 Pandemic and what will likely be lagging economic effects even after its "pinnacle" is over.