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Cocktails-to-go approved in Pennsylvania, but law expires when coronavirus declaration ends

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Gov. Tom Wolf today signed House Bill 327, now Act 21 of 2020, allowing the temporary sale of cocktails-to-go from bars, restaurants or hotels with a liquor license. 

The law takes effect immediately.

“This new temporary rule creates more business for bars and restaurants when they need it, helps to meet customer demand and supports social distancing,” Wolf said. “As we approach the holiday weekend, I encourage all Pennsylvanians to remember to drink responsibly.”

The law applies to bars, restaurants and hotels that have lost 25 percent of average monthly total sales during the COVID-19 emergency. The beverages must be sold in containers with a secure lid in quantities from 4 ounces to 64 ounces before 11 p.m.

An additional seal is required on the straw opening of a lid. Within 60 days, bars and restaurants must use a transaction scan device to verify a consumer’s age if the person appears to be younger than 35 years of age.

“Our local restaurants are working hard to feed our communities during this difficult time,” said Rep. Perry Warren, a Democrat whose 31st House District includes part of Bucks County. “Act 21 both streamlines the process for residents to decide whether to permit alcohol sales in a ‘dry’ municipality and allows restaurants to add another product for their customers for curbside pickup and takeout during this crisis. I thank Governor Wolf and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this bill."

The temporary rule expires after the COVID-19 disaster emergency ends and a business reaches 60 percent capacity.

Pennsylvania’s open container law applies.

View additional information from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

The guidance issued today by the PLCB regarding drinks to go, includes:

• Only hotel and restaurant licensees selling meals to go and meeting the 25 percent sales impact threshold are authorized to sell drinks to go.

• Each prepared beverage and mixed drink sold to consumers must be between four and 64 ounces and include liquor and at least one mixer combined on the licensed premises. 

• Licensees may not sell to-go mixed drinks containing wine or beer; unopened bottles of liquor; gallon jugs of cocktails; unopened ready-to-drink prepackaged cocktails; or straight liquor.

• Drinks-to-go may not be consumed on the licensed premises and must be sold in sealed containers with secure lids or caps designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap. A lid with sipping or straw holes must be covered or affixed with an additional seal before sale.

• Licensees can sell drinks to go from 7 a,m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays if the licensee has a Sunday sales permit.

• There is no limit to the number of drinks-to-go a person can purchase at a time, and purchase of a meal is not required in order to buy drinks to go.

• Drinks-to-go may not be delivered.

• Within the next 60 days, any licensee selling drinks to go must begin to use a transaction scan device to verify the age of anyone appearing under 35 years of age before making a sale.

• Retail licensees not permitted to sell drinks to go include clubs and catering clubs; any licensee whose license was objected to through the Nuisance Bar program; any licensee whose license is suspended or in safekeeping; and any licensee previously suspended under the Licensee Compliance program.

The new law also permits qualifying hotel and restaurant licensees to temporarily sell liquor (not wine or beer) to each other. Licensees selling liquor to other qualifying licensees must report those sales to the PLCB within seven days of each sale.

Pennsylvanians are reminded it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol while in a vehicle, and open containers may only be transported in a vehicle’s trunk or some other area of the vehicle not occupied by the driver or passengers.