During the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of states have given a boost to struggling restaurants by allowing them to sell cocktails to-go, through takeout, curbside pickup or home delivery. The expansion of alcohol to-go laws has placed a heavy burden on understaffed alcohol enforcement agencies, which have been hard-pressed to prevent underage drinking, Governing.com reports. Before the changes, agents had to make sure servers and bartenders were properly trained, checking photo IDs and not serving intoxicated patrons. Now, agents also must check whether restaurants and bars are placing cocktails to-go in the proper container with the correct labeling. They have to make sure food is being ordered with alcoholic beverages, as most states require. They must monitor whether drivers are checking IDs when they deliver orders, so alcohol isn’t getting into the hands of those under 21.
Last year in Virginia, agents conducted a series of decoy operations: They ordered alcohol to be delivered to underage buyers, who presented an ID showing their age to be under 21. Of 52 decoy operations, 32 underage buyers ended up with the alcohol, mostly from restaurants but also from grocery or convenience stores. In most cases, the driver didn’t ask for an ID. In others, the driver requested an ID but made the sale anyway. “The noncompliance rate was extremely high,” said Chris Curtis of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. He said the typical noncompliance rate for onsite retail sales is closer to ten percent. Between May 2020 and late February 2022, officers issued 282 citations to delivery drivers. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 32 states and the District of Columbia have taken legislative action to allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go, says the Distilled Spirits Council, an industry trade group. Eighteen states and D.C. have made those changes permanent, and 14 others have extended temporary measures.