GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Metro Grand Rapids restaurants are eager for the state Legislature to permanently legalize the sale of to-go cocktails at Michigan bars and restaurants.
Cocktails to-go were first made legal in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to give bars and restaurants a way to make up for lost revenue. The bill was originally set to expire on Jan. 1, 2026.
The state House voted 102-5 to pass House Bill 4201, which would make to-go cocktails legal permanently, on May 2. Sources in Lansing told News 8 political reporter Rick Albin that there is support in the Senate to make to-go cocktails permanent, but legislators are negotiating differences between House and Senate bills.
The Uccello’s location in downtown Grand Rapids, located on Monroe Center Street across from Rosa Parks Circle, offers cocktails to-go primarily from its patio BarCart. Assistant general manager Caitlynn Bupp said the BarCart was first opened before the pandemic as another way for customers to enjoy drinks on the patio.
Now, customers can get the cocktails to-go and enjoy them in the downtown social district, another trend that emerged during the pandemic.
Bupp said to-go cocktails and social districts helped keep the restaurant’s doors open.
“Once COVID happened, and the … social zone districts opened up, it actually was something that helped keep us afloat, because it was something for people to do outside,” she said.
Sales have stayed pretty consistent since the start of the pandemic. Bupp said the restaurant’s alcohol sales have become almost even with food sales.
Bupp said Uccello’s open the BarCart depending on what’s happening downtown. This summer, it will typically be open on Tuesday nights for swing dancing at Rosa Parks Circle, on Thursday afternoons for Relax on Rosa and on Saturdays.
In the cold months, the BarCart offers hot drinks, like spiked hot cocoa, that people can enjoy during the winter festivities.
“It’s just customer goodwill,” Sellers said. “…If somebody has to wait for 20 minutes for their table to be ready, it’s nice to be able to sip on a cocktail.”
Max’s South Sea Hideaway specializes in cocktails, like mai tais or the Puka Punch, an 11-ingredient rum-based drink. Cocktails make up about half the tiki bar’s sales, Sellers said.
“We didn’t have any other revenue source besides selling to-go cocktails and selling food to go,” Seller said.
While the to-go cocktails are no longer a big source of revenue at Max’s, Seller said it’s still nice to be able to offer.
“It’s just an extra added bonus to the end of your meal if … you really like something you’ve had that you can actually have it bottled and taken home,” Chef Jenna said.
She said customers love it and it gives bartenders space to be creative and make fun cocktails to send home with them.
The chef said she’s “thrilled” the Legislature is looking at making them permanent.
“There’s nothing better than having something extra that you can sell to your customers that can remind them of their experience at your restaurants,” she said.
Having the option can help an industry hit hard by the pandemic.
“I think a lot of restaurants are still struggling to get back on their feet after COVID,” she said. “And the scene has changed a lot; people don’t go out as much and they don’t stay out as late. So we have to be creative with how we mesh and flow with the new vibe when it comes to going out.”
She said Amore already had a liquor made in house that it can now offer to-go, along with things like a house-made limoncello and negroni, which is popular in Italy.
Bupp, Sellers and Chef Jenna all said they haven’t seen issues that came from selling the cocktails to-go.
“Any kind of extra bonus items we can sell, it’s just good for the bottom line for all of us,” Chef Jenna said. “I think any other restaurants will say the same. I don’t think anyone’s going to say, ‘No we don’t want to do that,’ I think it’s a 100% ‘yes’ on the restaurants’ side of things.”