Queens leaders urge state to make drinks-to-go permanent

Queens drinks
Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas calls for the inclusion of the revenue-generation drinks-to-go initiative to be included in the final state budget. (Photo courtesy of González-Rojas’s office)

Several Queens lawmakers gathered at Mojitos Restaurant Bar in Jackson Heights to mark the second anniversary of the emergency orders that shut down all dining and drinking establishments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The elected officials spoke in support of Governor Kathy Hochul’s efforts to make alcohol-to-go permanent in this year’s final budget.

“Just like temporary liquor licenses, bringing back to-go cocktails is about parity for small businesses in the restaurant industry,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said. “During the height of the pandemic, the hospitality industry used the expanse of its creativity to stay afloat while keeping our communities safe. The go-to drink revenue stream allowed them to hire more people and reinvigorate our commercial corridors when it was desperately needed. Now they need a lifeline to recovery and we can deliver.”

Ramos co-sponsored the legislation with state Senator Leroy Comrie in the upper chamber.

“Returning to a sensible to-go drinks policy would support ongoing efforts to rebuild and recover Queens’ and New York state’s economy from the worst days of the pandemic, remembering those worst days hit the restaurant industry and workers particularly hard,” Comrie said. “We must pursue a to-go drinks policy that means these small businesses have an opportunity to thrive.”

The policy was not included in the Legislature’s budget proposal.

“The restaurant industry, especially in New York City where local restaurants help shape the bedrock of many communities, were ravaged during the pandemic,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said. “Drinks-to-go is just one way the legislature can help local business owners and stimulate the economic recovery. They simply want to offer the same menu items to take-out customers that dine-in customers enjoy. I call on my colleagues to support making this revenue generator permanent.”

They said alcohol-to-go is a critical lifeline for restaurants to recoup sales to pre-pandemic levels that provided $4 billion in sales tax revenue to the state’s coffers, highlighting its direct impact on state revenue.

“These last two years have made it nearly impossible for many restaurants to stay afloat, and many small business owners had to close their doors,” Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said. “Despite these challenges, restaurants not only kept our communities fed but often went above and beyond what they could do. In my district, many struggling restaurants showed up for our communities by donating food to hospital workers on the front lines. We owe these pillars of our communities a lifeline, and alcohol-to-go proved to be just that.”

A survey conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association last May found that more than 78% of New Yorkers support alcohol-to-go becoming permanent.

“The restaurants in southeast Queens are a major factor in making our community thrive,” Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman said. “We have witnessed the devastating effects of the pandemic on businesses across New York City. The food service industry has been one of the most affected, causing some to close their doors forever. Drinks-to-go is just the first step in the right direction towards economic revitalization for our restaurant and food service industry.”

The program lasted 15 months during the height of the pandemic but was allowed to expire last summer. Proposals to renew the popular revenue generator faced pushback from the New York State Liquor Store Association.

“With seeing how well the initiative worked, I believe that issues and differences can be addressed in order to have the alcohol-to-go policy in place to assist our local bars and restaurants recuperate even further,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said.

His colleague in government from south Queens, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, endorsed the initiative being made permanent as part of the final enacted budget later this month.

“Cheers!” she said.