Austin sports bar owner Trey Dart was excited—along with the general drinking community—when last month Gov. Greg Abbott told establishments like his that they could sell cocktails to go during the pandemic shutdown.
"We saw it as one form of relief to help restaurants and bars weather this storm," said Dart, who owns Shooter's Billiards, where alcohol accounts for more than half of his sales.
The buzz wore off, he said, when it became clear that the new rules would increase his financial risk and lower his margin. That is a deadly combination at a time when Texas restaurants have seen a 70% drop in business and been forced to lay off at least 60% of the workforce, estimated at 1.2 million in the state, according to the Texas Restaurant Association.
The problem is that the rules, clarified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission within a few days of the governor's March 18 order, still forbid the sale of drinks mixed in-house to be picked up or delivered.
Restaurants are allowed only to serve cocktail setups—without the alcohol in them—to go. The accompanying alcohol must be in the form of sealed single or double-shot alcohol bottles purchased from the local package store.
So while Austin is excited about Abbott's comment this week that "alcohol-to-go sales" may become a fixture in Texas, the reaction from restaurants is mixed.
For some, like Curra's Grill in South Austin, they've been a lifeline. For others, like Taco Flats, it isn't worth the trouble.
"There's no margin in it," said Simon Madera, founder and owner of Taco Flats, which is not serving the drink kits because he said the demand isn't there.
Dart also saw the kits as a risk he wasn't ready to take because he would have to purchase the single-serve bottles, which cost much more than the large handles used behind the bar.
"Sinking money into additional inventory just doesn't make fiscal sense in this environment," he said.
Neither availed themselves of a law passed last year allowing them to offer mixed drink set-ups through delivery services.
What would truly help restaurants and bars is to be allowed to mix cocktails and pour glasses of wine, seal them at the restaurant and sell them to go, said local attorney Kareem Hajjar, who represents thousands of restaurant and bar locations in Texas, including several hundred in Austin.
That lets them clear inventory from the bar, employ bartenders, raise their margins, and attract more drink customers, he said.
But regardless of what version he supports, if any, Abbott can't change the alcoholic beverage code by himself—this is why his much-celebrated Tweet included the hashtag #txlege—so any permanence would require the act of a legislature that is not historically prone to quick changes to the code.
Some restaurants have found a way to profit from the setups, however. Jorge Garcia, the founder of Curra's, says the restaurant sells close to 150 to-go margarita set-ups per day at about $10 each.
About 90% of those sales are Curra's signature avocado margaritas, Garcia said. The iconic 25-year-old restaurant is on the edge of Travis Heights, whose residents are tipping handsomely during the shutdown.
Not all restaurants are so lucky, he said, but he knows several that have figured out a winning formula.
"That is what has saved Curra's Grill and many restaurants in Austin, the ability to send drinks out," he said. "So I hope this to-go business lasts forever."
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The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.
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Protests over police killings planned for Austin this weekend following widespread demonstrations across U.S.
At least two protests are planned in Austin this weekend over the recent killings of black men by police: Mike Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin Police Department officer on April 24 in Southeast Austin, and George Floyd, who died in police custody on Monday after a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on his neck. Both events were filmed.
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As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:
Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.
Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.
- Reopening today: the zoo (masks required), water parks (advanced tickets required), driver's license offices (appointments required).
- As protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis spread to cities around the county, a demonstration drawing attention to both Floyd and Mike Ramos is planned for Austin this weekend.
- With local businesses concerned they can't make a profit at limited capacity, the city council may soon allow the use of sidewalks and parking lots to increase it, CBS Austin reports.
- KUT notes that, ultimately, it's up to voters to decide who votes by mail.
- Aaron Franklin will be inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame, writes Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly, just as his restaurant faces its biggest challenge yet.
'This has dwarfed anything else we've seen': Nonprofits adapt to soaring need, fewer volunteers and a fundraising slump
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Austin, the Central Texas Food Bank has seen a tenfold increase in food costs.
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