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Making Outdoor Seating, To-Go Alcohol Sales Permanent (Updated)

Just remote work and Zoom is here to stay, so are the outdoor restaurant and bar seating we see everywhere now. Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf has introduced House Bill 290, which would remove a sunset provision to a policy allowing bars and restaurants to sell to-go alcoholic beverages and utilize extended outdoor seating, allowing customers to support their favorite bars and restaurants during the ongoing pandemic. These practices are slated to expire at the end of March unless the sunset is removed. 

In 2019, restaurant and food industry jobs in Delaware totaled 50,800. Between February and April 2020, Delaware lost 66% of its food or drink establishment jobs, one of the highest rates in the nation.  The General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing food and drink establishments to offer increased outdoor seating and to-go alcohol sales. The legislature extended those provisions in 2021 through March 2022. 

Under HB 290, any restaurant, brewpub, tavern, or taproom, or other entity with a valid on-premise license could sell alcoholic beverages for take-out, curbside, or drive-through service. 

UPDATE: Since publishing this piece, I have heard from several people indicating that there are some concerns with HB290. First, by making these changes permanent, it is an admission that these measures had nothing to do with the pandemic. That’s an interesting point, but changes that were at first necessary and that we are now used to and find preferrable and convenient is not a bad thing.

Second, how can we justify allowing a bar to be transformed into a liquor store? If you want a case a beer and three bottles of wine and a liter of whiskey, go to your local liquor store like Total Wine or Peco’s. Not to your local bar. That’s a good point.

Third, the outdoor seating change provides a second path, without public input, for the creation of outdoor seating. There is an existing mechanism, that permits a public hearing, if so requested. Further, the existing mechanism comes with an $1,000 annual fee, which is absent from HB 290. This is something that should be addressed either in HB 290 or in a follow up bill. Perhaps HB290 can be limited to outdoor eateries established during 2020 and 2021, and not be used as a work-around for businesses trying to escape the existing process in 2022.

House Bill 290 SponsorsYes VotesNo Votes
Schwartzkopf, Bush, Carson, Heffernan, K.Johnson, Longhurst, Morrison, Osienski, Briggs King, Ramone, Gray, D.Short, M.Smith, Smyk, Yearick
Lopez, Pettyjohn, Wilson, Poore
Current Status: House Administration Committee

“While the pandemic has been extremely challenging for families and businesses across the state and country, it also has forced us to get creative at times. Restaurants and bars were among the hardest-hit industries these past two years, and we had to use some ingenuity to provide assistance,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf. “The outdoor dining and to-go cocktails options have been extremely popular and have allowed restaurants and bars to serve patrons safely. These innovations are about to expire, but even as this health crisis continues, it’s clear that there is a market and a desire for these practices to continue for good.” 

“This important bipartisan legislation enables our local restaurants to focus on what they do best:  serving customers and increasing the positive economic impact made on our local communities,” said Sen. Ernie Lopez, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill. “Too often, some in government have arbitrarily told businesses what they can’t do. This approach must stop. [Ed note: oh please, yes, those horrible regulations like wash your hands and pay your employees more than slave wages]  With this bill, we listened to our restaurant owners and worked together to address concerns.  This legislation exemplifies the type of meaningful public policy that expands economic growth and supports local businesses that Speaker Schwartzkopf and I will continue to advance during this session of the General Assembly.” 

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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