Gov. Pete Ricketts’ executive order allowing curbside alcohol sales from bars and restaurants means you can buy an unopened bottle of wine or six-pack of beer with your steak dinner, to imbibe in the comfort of your virus-free home.
But you cannot legally purchase a tumbler of wine with that meal, or a margarita in a Styrofoam cup, or any other kind of alcoholic beverage that is not in its unopened, original packaging.
“The open container rule is clearly not waived,” said Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission. “You cannot have an open container in your vehicle.”
Ricketts issued the order Thursday night to try to provide relief to restaurants and bars hit hard by the social distancing rules triggered by the COVID-19 threat. The details of how to apply and enforce Ricketts’ order are still being worked out. Rupe said the commission hoped to post guidelines by late Friday.
But in general, the part that will affect the eating and drinking public the most is that restaurants whose liquor licenses don’t allow them to sell off-sale alcohol will now be able to do so, temporarily. So people buying food for curbside pickup or delivery will be able to purchase alcohol with it.
“If you stop and get food from your favorite Italian restaurant, you can buy a bottle of wine with it and help your local restaurant stay in business,” Rupe said.
The commission has heard some concerns from people about the rules.
“This does not mean you can sell pre-made margaritas in a Styrofoam cup,” Rupe said. “But you could sell a virgin (non- alcoholic) margarita in a Styrofoam cup and an unopened shooter (airplane-sized bottle) of tequila.”
Diners could then slake their thirst for spirits by adding the tequila to the cup after they got home.
“We’re not Louisiana, where they can have drive-thru daiquiris as long as the lid hasn’t been punctured by a straw,” Rupe said.
Restaurants can also deliver alcohol with meals, following generally the same rules as with curbside pickup. That applies to direct deliveries by the restaurants or through such a third-party agent as Grubhub. The booze must be paid for in advance.
“No cash on delivery,” Rupe said. “We don’t want that.”
Omaha’s historic Anthony’s Steakhouse is among those restaurants now offering curbside pickup of meals. Anthony’s actually had the ability to sell off-sale before the governor’s executive order, but didn’t use it all that much.
Occasionally people would buy a bottle of wine to take home after a meal. Anthony’s had not been offering alcohol with curbside orders before Ricketts’ order, but began doing so Friday, assistant manager Courtney Tatum said.
“We’re hoping that when people come in and get our family-style dinners to go that they’ll order a bottle of wine or some of our craft beers,” Tatum said.
The Omaha Police Department said it will “continue to enforce alcohol open containers and DUI ordinances and laws as before.”
“We expect people to use this new provision as if they were to purchase alcohol products from a retail or package store,” the Police Department said by email. “The alcohol product cannot be opened in the vehicle or in public. We expect people to be responsible and safe.”
Rupe said a provision of the executive order that will fly under the public’s radar may actually help restaurants and bars a lot. That is allowing the businesses to extend their payment for alcohol bought on credit to 90 days, instead of the normally required 30 days.
Say a bar bought two cases of Irish whiskey on credit from a distributor in expectation of a St. Patrick’s Day crowd, but St. Patrick’s Day fizzled in the face of the coronavirus threat.
“Normally they’d have to pay for that within 30 days,” Rupe said. “To give them a little room, the executive order extends it to 90 days. . . . We’re trying to work as closely with all aspects of the industry as we can. We’re trying to be as supportive as we can.”