To-go alcohol sales, expanding outdoor dining could become permanent in Delaware

DELAWARE – Many of the changes the COVID-19 pandemic brought for restaurants, like having to reduce indoor capacity and increasing safety measures, were difficult to adjust to. But, the hospitality industry says other changes proved to be potentially positive.

That’s why restaurant owners say House Bill 290 could help Delaware catch up to other parts of the nation, and possibly grow beyond them, when it comes to dining options. “It’s already been approved in 20 states across the country. In 15 more states currently on the agenda. There’s legislation that’s been written. So, if Delaware didn’t go through with it, we’d be behind 35 states in the country,” said Owner of The Starboard Steve Montgomery.

The bill would remove the sunset provision on carry out alcohol sales, which is set to expire on March 31st. It would also allow Delaware’s restaurants to apply for more outdoor dining space. House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf says those measures didn’t just benefit the restaurants during the pandemic. “This is not just good for the restaurants. It’s good for the public. The public really loves outdoor dining. It’s been a silver lining in this dark COVID-19 cloud that we have,” he said.

Carry out alcohol sales and increased outdoor dining proved to be a life-saver during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to lawmakers. “It’s become a very popular tool for the restaurants to have to make sure that they stay open. They can get the product out the door even if people don’t want to come in the door,” said House Speaker Schwartzkopf. “When somebody goes under and they lose their business, it’s like losing a friend. I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure that all the businesses throughout the state thrive through this pandemic.”

Montgomery says while the COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever, something that has changed for good is diners’ attitudes towards eating outside or at home. “People really love being able to come up and get cocktails. For us, that’s precious. That’s what the Starboard is known for. It’s probably about 95% or 98% of what we sell,” he said. “Having an expanded patio means everything to the future. People are coming out now, more people are coming to town than ever, more people are coming to Dewey Beach to dine, and that’s a big part of it.”

As it stands now, restaurants with patio areas must apply to use that space. They must also pay a bi-annual fee of $1,000. House Speaker Schwartzkopf says he’s also working on a second follow-up bill to HB 290 that would create a graduated permitting fee. He says that way, the fee would depend on how large the outdoor dining space is.

House Speaker Schwartzkopf also says he’s working with Delaware’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner to set up a hearing process for suspending alcohol licenses, if necessary. But, he adds that since carry-out alcohol has been available in Delaware for that past two years, he doesn’t foresee any other major changes.

Categories: Coronavirus, Delaware, Local News, Local Politics