Alcohol to go from restaurants in Maine could be here to stay, at least until 2022, if a bill approved by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee moves forward at the State House.

To-go alcohol was legalized in an executive order by Gov. Janet Mills to help a struggling restaurant industry that was largely restricted to take-out service during the first weeks of Maine’s response to the spread of COVID-19.

But Sen. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who sponsored the bill to extend the to-go law until April 2022, said it has helped prevent many restaurants from going out of business during the pandemic.

“The hospitality industry is a huge part of our economy here in Hancock County and across Maine, and it’s been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luchini said in a prepared statement. “Over the past four months, bars and restaurants have adapted to safely meet the challenges of the moment, and the ability to sell alcohol to go has helped many restaurants continue to serve their customers and keep employees working. It’s important that we continue to give our small businesses the tools they need to survive these difficult times.”

Mills first allowed bars and restaurants  to sell alcohol to go via executive order on March 18. Luchini said extending this through April 2022 will ensure that restaurants and bars don’t lose a second summer season, should the pandemic continue to hamper business in 2021.

Others who spoke in favor of the bill Friday, including Greg Dugal of Hospitality Maine, a statewide association of restaurants, said to-go alcohol sales have kept some businesses afloat.

“I met with a restaurateur on York Beach around the Memorial Day holiday who told me that cocktails to go saved his restaurant,” Dugal told the committee. “Before adding this component to his menu he was sinking. Cocktails to go increased his business by double and put him at 50 percent of his original sales, thereby allowing him to survive and operate through this summer season.”

Dugal said beer, wine and cocktails to go may be the difference between “success and failure” for many restaurants. Under the executive order and proposed bill, to-go alcoholic beverages must be sold only in closed, sealed containers and are not intended for consumption while driving, which remains illegal in Maine.

The bill, L.D. 2174, will go to the Maine Senate and House for votes, pending the Legislature reconvening for a special session later this year.


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