As states and counties around the country gradually ease their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, many are taking the opportunity to recalibrate policies on common consumption areas—public places where of-age patrons can freely consume alcohol.
Relaxed common consumption laws were one of the ways cities supported local restaurants during the pandemic. However, the idea wasn’t initially embraced in several parts of the country.
Cities like Denver, Colorado also allowed their restaurants to expand their seating areas into some streets and parking lots and allowed to-go sales of beer, wine, and liquor. Others like Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey didn’t allow restaurants like Jenkinson’s Boardwalk to sell to-go alcoholic drinks.
However, the pandemic accelerated the trend toward off-premise alcohol sales that was already fomenting in the restaurant industry. Research by The Fermentation Association, a beer, and spirits trade association, found that 75 pieces of legislation were passed in 2020 that ended restrictions for to-go sales, delivery, and expanded common consumption areas.
These areas offer exciting new opportunities for restaurants to expand their operations. For example, neighboring businesses such as a pizzeria and a bar can coordinate sales and help and work together to support their businesses. It’s because of this possibility that restaurant owners should expect to see their local leaders expand common consumption areas if they haven’t already.
To see just how impactful this policy stance can be, look no further than Shawnee, Kansas.
Like several cities, Shawnee lost several restaurants during the pandemic. Losses included local landmarks like Marrio’s Donut Shop, Sobahn Korean, and The Boardroom Family Pub.
In response, Shawnee’s City Council voted unanimously in April to approve an ordinance that will expand common consumption areas across the city and allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed on public property. It will also allow for alcohol consumption between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
However, the ordinance is limited to special events and other events hosted by the city.
For business owner Calvin Vick, the relaxed ordinances will help his business to recoup from the pandemic. He told the Shawnee Mission Post that he now has plans to expand his operation—The KC Daiquiri Shop—throughout the metro region. This will allow him to introduce his 31 drink specials and new menu items to a new customer base, he says.
“Everybody knows us in the metropolitan area for our daiquiris, but we want people to see the variety of food we’re going to have on the menu,” Vick told the news organization. “Our food selection is going to be phenomenal.”
Similar events are occurring in cities across the country. Lansing, Michigan recently adopted a resolution to create three spaces in downtown neighborhoods where people can drink in public.
City Council President Peter Spadafore told WKAR that the districts are temporary yet designed to help businesses who have struggled during the pandemic.
“So, it’s a short-term win during the pandemic to allow businesses to continue to operate at greater capacities without violating the gathering orders,” he said.
According to research by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA), a local trade organization, 5,600, or 33 percent, of Michigan restaurant operators say they will not reopen because of the pandemic. Another 52 percent say they are in danger of foreclosure.
Justin Winslow, President, and CEO of MRLA estimate that it will take the industry several years to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. Even so, policy measures like increasing common consumption are an important step to safeguard from another industry-wide downturn should infections begin to flare up again.
“The data is settled. It is fundamentally clear that the pandemic is decimating the hospitality industry in this state to a degree never seen or even imagined. While it will take several years and a stable economy to reclaim the size, impact, and opportunities produced by this industry, we have not yet reached the bottom,” he said.