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Is there a single thing from the pandemic that people can agree on? Maybe just one: To-go cocktails are a wonderful thing and they deserve to stay.
Why didn’t to-go cocktails exist before? Well, to put it simply: Prohibition, or more accurately, post-Prohibition. After the repeal of Prohibition, U.S. states took on various approaches to allowing citizens access to booze. But there was one thing that was common to most states: You couldn’t buy liquor at venues such as bars and then take it to-go. (New Orleans, a city filled with visionaries, wrote its own laws to sidestep those issues.)
But then, a pandemic happened. Restaurants closed, consumers were trapped indoors and well, you were there, you know the rest.
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The to-go cocktail boom arrived, lifting spirits (pun intended), helping restaurants and even bringing in some much-needed tax revenues to states. To get around the legal issues, many states in the U.S. drafted emergency legislation at the start of the pandemic, allowing venues to let their customers take their margaritas and Negronis outside. The majority of this legislation was passed for only one year or with a similar timeframe; in short, the early to-go cocktail laws, by and large, had an expiration date that largely hinged on the pandemic.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021. Even as the U.S. inches toward a season that promises to be filled with mask-free parties and overdue hangouts, the to-go cocktail looks more and more like it’s here to stay, in part because it’s an easy source of revenue for both restaurants and states. In the last month, various states, from Texas to Florida to Louisiana, moved to indefinitely extend their to-go cocktail legislation. As recently as June 7, 2021, New York’s Governor Cuomo extended the to-go legislation for another 30 days. There is no word yet if the law will be allowed to go on indefinitely — something some restaurant groups are lobbying for.
Entrepreneur’s Jason Feifer spoke to bar industry experts on the topic for a May 2021 article on the future of to-go cocktails (registration required). Beverage director Sam Nelis told Feifer: “If anyone out there is listening, I would say, please, keep the to-go cocktails going forever. I don’t know why it was never allowed.”
So what does that mean, in the big picture for brands trying to make the most of this vibrant new space?
The same rules from pre-pandemic apply: Set up strategic partnerships with venues. Get featured on their to-go cocktail menus. Sponsor specific drinks and put in resources for things like bottles, packaging and even photoshoots that can be featured in social media campaigns.
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The to-go cocktail is more than just a convenient drink. It’s a chance to have consumers discover your brand and actually hold it in their hands for a short time. Imagine if you can set up a gorgeously labeled cocktail at a swish neighborhood cocktail bar; people might be incentivized to buy more than just one for hosting parties. They might even look for your brand at retail stores the next time they’re out shopping.
A lot of venues are relying on their beverage directors to manage their drinks rollout. But if you are a brand leader that wants to be featured in a new way, to a receptive audience, now could be the time to step in and see how you can help bring your product to life. Arrange photoshoots, specifically for social media campaigns, for the restaurants featuring your brands. Venues are in constant need of content; underwriting a social media campaign for an account gives them new content while providing your brand a spotlight in front of your target market. This applies to more than just liquor brands. The space is wide open for mixers and even non-alcoholic spirits.
Worried that the gatherings of the summer will dampen the to-go craze? Don’t. Think of it this way: If you work with venues to create new products, such as four-packs of drinks, specifically to take home, you could design a way for consumers to enjoy your brands in multiple scenarios. Today’s to-go cocktail could morph into tomorrow’s take-home stash — a way to extend the experience long after the bill is paid up.
The to-go cocktail has opened a brand new space for liquor and zero-proof brands. How you make the most of it is up to you.
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