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Carryout Cocktails Are Officially Legal in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed laws on Wednesday allowing for to-go cocktails and the creation of “social districts” where people could drink from open containers

A kraken mug with colorful straws stands in front of a floral mural.
A cocktail from Lost River in Detroit.
Stock Detroit

Carryout cocktails and social districts are officially legal in Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put the final signature on legislation on Wednesday morning allowing bars and restaurant across the state to begin serving cocktails to-go and for delivery. A separate law allows municipalities to establish “social districts” where people could dine and drink from open containers outdoors.

The new package of laws is designed to provide some relief to Michigan’s food service industry, which like so many sectors of the economy has been devastated by the pandemic and continues to face challenges with managing safety and financial stability while open for service. The cocktail law in particular could allow bars to operate in a more limited capacity for carryout-only to reduce contact with customers — something that wasn’t possible before unless the business had a kitchen and carryout food menu. The are expected to go into effect immediately and last through 2025. Alcohol, is responsible for 20 to 30 percent of restaurant sales across the country.

Under the cocktail legislation approved last week, drinks must be sold in sealed containers without “perforations or straw holes” that approved for off-premises liquor consumption. The containers must be less than one gallon. All to-go containers must include a label that states, “Contains alcohol: Must be delivered to a person 21 years of age or older.” Recipients of the beverages must show identification with proof of age.

The version of the social district bill approved last week should make it easier for restaurants and bars to take advantage of public outdoor spaces for customers to social distance and drink from open containers. Common areas must be marked clearly with signs and established hours of operation. Road closures would have to be approved by local transportation agencies. Restaurants and bars with the proper permit priced at $250 would be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks to customers for consumption within those designated areas. Under the rules, the drinks must be:

  • labeled with the logo of the business
  • labeled with a mark indicating which social district the beverage belongs to
  • sold in a non-glass container of no more than 16 ounces

Customers would not be allowed to bar hop under the rules without first discarding an alcoholic beverage from a different business within the district. Customers who buy wine from a restaurant or bar that’s permitted to sell bottled wine to-go could potentially consume part of a bottle in the social district and take the remainder home, so long as the business recaps the bottle or replaces the cork following state guidelines.

Last week, the senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of versions of the bills originally proposed by representatives in the house. Michigan follows 30 states around the country that now allow to-go liquor. Many passed measures early on in response to the novel coronavirus crisis and Michigan has been among the slowest to adopt the new rule. In April, nearly 30 prominent members of Michigan’s beverage industry launched a petition to allow to-go cocktail sales.

Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at detroit@eater.com.

House Bill 5811 (2020) [Official]
House Bill 5781 (2020) [Official]
Whitmer Signs Bar, Restaurant Relief Package Expanding Alcohol Sales [Mibiz]
Michigan Legislature Approves Bill to Create ‘Social Districts’ for Outdoor Drinking [ED]
Michigan Legislature Passes Bill Paving the Way for To-Go Cocktails [ED]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]

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