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Albany Legal Blog

COVID and New York’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Law

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2022 | Hospitality & Alcohol Beverage Law

Anyone who practices before the New York State Liquor Authority (“SLA”) knows how archaic New York’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Law (“ABC”) is, and with all due respect to the professionals who work at the SLA, how difficult it historically has been to get fair and timely adjudications from the SLA for our clients.

Over the past ten to twenty years, things have definitely gotten better, but change at the SLA is often like moving a glacier. (I would have said as fast as a melting glacier, but in today’s climate, I am not sure that analogy would be accurate anymore.)

Amazingly, COVID did produce some changes for the better, and some of the changes are now becoming permanent.  Although there have not been major changes to the production or sale of alcohol in recent years, when where and how consumers access alcohol had to change out of necessity in light of the COVID pandemic. In the last two years, hospitality-based businesses, including alcohol retailers, have had to make big changes in terms of how they operate to remain competitive.  And the SLA has helped them out.

I am sure some people will disagree with me on this, but in light of what we knew and when we knew things, the State of New York did its best to support struggling businesses. New York modified its ABC law and its implementing regulations, at first temporarily and then, in some respects, permanently, to allow businesses to stay operational during the pandemic, and to satisfy unbelievable customer demand during this time, and still now.  Below are two of the more significant changes to New York’s ABC law that affects how some businesses are allowed to operate, and what their customers can now do that they could not before the pandemic.

Allowing the Sale of Liquor on Municipal Properties

One of the more surprising changes was the ability for restaurants with on-premises alcohol and beverage retail licenses to sell alcoholic beverages on contiguous and non-contiguous outdoor municipal properties (e.g., sidewalks and even public streets in some cases).  What began as an emergency Executive Order has become so popular and created such benefits for restaurants and their patrons that this temporary change has been extended for three years.  I personally love it.

Permitting Licensed To-Go Alcohol Sales

Prior to the pandemic, it was unlawful for restaurants with on-premise liquor licenses, for instance, to sell alcohol to their customers to take out when a customer came in for takeout food.  That changed by Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order in 2020.  Now, with Governor Hochul’s 2022 budget, that change has been made permanent.

Businesses can now provide single-serving to-go alcohol along with food for takeout and delivery provided that the customer orders a substantial food item along with their beverages.[1] Using the correct packaging is also important.

These might not sound like much, but in the alcohol and beverage control world, they were earth-shattering.  Understanding New York’s ABC laws and how to obtain, maintain, change or renew a license can help restaurants and other alcohol retailers make the most of these changing laws that have become much more beneficial for New York businesses.

[1] They can’t be “Cuomo Chips” and the licensee cannot sell for take-out, or deliver, any full bottles of liquor or bottles of wine.