Takeout cocktails are now legal in Arizona. Here's what to know – The Arizona Republic

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order closing bars and limiting restaurants to takeout orders. In an effort to ease the hardship to the businesses, the order allowed restaurants to start selling beer, wine and spirits to-go.
Z’Tejas restaurant in Phoenix began selling takeout margaritas by the gallon. Along with taco plates, the large format to-go cocktails were a big hit, says COO Robby Nethercut.
Delighted customers ordered margaritas with their Mexican takeout. And programs such as Postino’s wine delivery by VW Bus, dubbed the ‘Wine Wagon’ launched across the state. But, just as customers got used to picking up a drink with their dinner, the rules changed, taking to-go cocktails off the menu.
As of Oct. 1, takeout cocktails will again be legal. However, while Nethercut and many other restaurant owners are eager to start selling them again, they may have to wait a bit longer.
In July 2020, a group of bar owners sued the governor for giving restaurants a privilege for free that bars had to pay a lot of money for. Lawyers argued that the governor doesn’t have the singular power to change a law, instead that should fall to the legislature.
The decision was sent to the legislature, who collectively decided in May 2021 that yes, takeout cocktails are a good idea.
As of Friday, Oct. 1, bars and liquor stores can once again start selling takeout cocktails. For restaurants, things are a little more complicated.
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The question on many business owners’ minds is what date can they start legally selling to-go cocktails and drinks. For bars, the answer is simple: Oct. 1, 2021.
In order for restaurants to sell drinks to-go, owners must apply to lease off-sale privileges of either off-sale bottles of beer, wine and spirits or of mixed cocktails, depending on what they want to sell. Once they have the proper leasing agreement, made through the state liquor board, then they can start selling takeout drinks.
Applications and leasing forms for to-go mixed cocktails and to-go bottled alcohol in original packaging are available on the DLLC’s website. 
There are some requirements for customers looking to order takeout cocktails. At restaurants, customers must buy food in order to get takeout drinks. Customers must purchase “a food item from a regular menu, special menu or happy hour menu that is prepared by the licensee or the licensee’s employee,” according to the liquor department.
At bars, food is not required to order cocktails to-go.
Ross Simon, cocktail expert and owner of acclaimed bars including Bitter & Twisted, Lylo Swim Club and Don Wood’s Say When, sold cocktails in cans throughout the pandemic.
“We have always been able to sell to-go alcohol, due to our bar’s liquor license. But now, thanks to the updated regulations, we have the ability to put back in place a more extensive to-go packaged cocktail program, as a complement to our regular service,” Simon wrote in a comment for The Republic.
Bars are permitted to offer delivery. The law states that employees of a bar may directly deliver takeout drinks to customers. Outside of employees, registered alcohol delivery contractors may deliver takeout cocktails.
Application forms and an FAQ page for registered delivery contractors are available on the DLLC website.
At restaurants, delivery can begin once the correct off-sale leasing agreement is in place.
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Just because takeout cocktails are legalized, that doesn’t mean you can pick up your takeout order and have a boozy picnic in the park. 
Public consumption laws have not changed. According to the Arizona State Legislature, “It is unlawful for a person to consume spirituous liquor in a public place, thoroughfare or gathering.” 
When ordering dinner from your favorite restaurant, you shouldn’t assume you’ll be able to get takeout cocktails. Not every restaurant plans to bring back the option.
Restaurants can choose whether to participate. At some restaurants, the return of dine-in service means the owners don’t need to sell takeout cocktails anymore. For others, the leasing process may be too arduous.
Some restaurants may choose not to sell takeout cocktails again because they fear a lack of customer demand. If customers can come into the restaurant and buy a drink, why would they order a cocktail to-go? 
Joshua James, who co-owns midtown Phoenix restaurant Clever Koi with Nick Campisano, says the team is eager to offer takeout cocktails again, as customers are asking for them and he has a stockpile of supplies. 
“We bought tons of bottles the first time around, so we are ready to go,” James says.
He says that despite the return of indoor dining, takeout orders have continued to flood in.
“Especially on busy nights, we have to balance everything carefully so the kitchen doesn’t get overwhelmed,” he says. 
He says the takeout orders, plus the fact customers ask him two or three times every week for takeout cocktails, gives him confidence that to-go cocktails will become popular once again.
At Simon’s bars, he says the ability to sell takeout cocktails will help the business recover from a financially difficult year.
“Now that we’re open for normal business, this will not be a major cash influx, but perhaps more a modest additional income stream,” he wrote.
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While the start date of the law is Oct. 1, restaurants won’t be able to sell takeout cocktails right away.
First, they need to apply through the state and receive an approved leasing agreement. The application fee is $200 and “the official price for restaurants to acquire the to-go cocktail privilege is $2,500.00,” according to the liquor department’s website.
Nethercut can’t wait to start selling takeout margaritas again, he says. Z’Tejas was founded in Texas, a state that currently allows takeout cocktails to be sold. So, he’s preparing for a similar situation in Arizona. 
He plans to sell cocktails in durable 16- or 32-ounce plastic containers with snap lids that will be taped shut, he says. Drinks served on the rocks will come chilled, but without ice, so the cocktails won’t be diluted. Frozen drinks will be poured only once a customer arrives to pick up their food. 
While takeout margaritas are on their way back, the days of gallon-jug margs to-go are over. The maximum size restaurants will be allowed to sell is 32 ounces. However, there is no limit on how many takeout cocktails each customer can buy.
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Reach the reporter at tirion.morris@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tirionmorris, on Facebook at Tirion Rose and on Instagram at tirionrose
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