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Alcohol Delivery Could Be a Salve for Ailing Chicago Restaurants

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The state is encouraging restaurants to offer beer and wine for delivery and carry out

The exterior of Roots Pizza.
Roots Pizza in Old Town.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Over the last 48 hours, Chicago restaurant owners have scrambled to expand takeout and delivery operations after the state ordered all dining rooms closed for the next two weeks. For many of those restaurants, the next frontier could be alcohol orders for takeout and delivery. City Winery in West Loop and Fifty/50 Restaurant Group via Roots Pizza, on Monday announced they will both make changes to their delivery options.

Even though alcohol delivery is already permitted in certain instances (companies like Foxtrot specialize in the service), there’s been much confusion surrounding what restaurants and bars can and can’t do. That’s why on Monday the state liquor commission reiterated that the executive order “encouraged” restaurants and bars to serve alcohol “through means as in-house delivery, third-party delivery, drive-through, and curbside pick-up.”

That means licensed restaurants and bars can sell unopened bottles or cans of alcohol for takeout and delivery. Restaurants owners said they needed this spelled out. For instance, could a customer drink a beer inside while waiting for a carryout order? (The answer is no.)

The commission’s action has already led to creativity. Case in point: Five years ago, happy hour bar drink specials were illegal in illinois. Now, starting on Tuesday, Roots Pizza began offering a happy hour delivery discount. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., customers can use the Roots app and punch in a code for half off beer, wine, and White Claw.

Roots co-owner, Scott Weiner, is trying to make sense of the new regulations. He wasn’t sure if restaurants could use Grubhub or a third party to deliver alcohol. He got conflicted answers from city officials.

Part of the confusion is that local officials are working quickly to change policies to help restaurant owners as the outbreak worsens. On Tuesday, the state health department announced 55 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois, and the first coronavirus-related death (a Chicago resident). That brings the total to 160 confirmed cases. The news has placed even more emphasis on social distancing. Some restaurants are offering to leave food orders at doors to reduce contact.

The confusion is one of the reasons the city on Tuesday issued an FAQ to explain Weiner and his fellow restaurant owners’s concerns surrounding the governor’s executive order. For example, the FAQ explained that coffee shops — even the world’s largest Starbucks — are considered restaurants and need to close their dining rooms. However, food trucks can continue serving food. There was also a section on alcohol delivery.

The state handles licensing for brewpubs like Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Wicker Park, which has been delivering growlers filled with their beer for the last few years, according to owner Bill Jacobs. The state began allowing growler delivery in 2016. Jacobs closed Piece’s dining room on Sunday, a day before the state mandate, and on Monday to-go and delivery sales were higher than usual, Jacobs said. Curbside takeout sales, which were a novelty in Chicago, were a sales boost in particular for Piece. On average, delivery and takeout makes up about 30 percent of Piece’s sales, Jacobs said.

Jacobs uses his own staff to deliver alcohol and check IDs. Not only do Grubhub’s fees add up, but the city holds the restaurants and bars responsible for checking IDs: “You don’t have control over a third party,” Jacobs said.

On average, alcohol is responsible for 20- to 30-percent of restaurants sales across the country. Alcohol delivery could allow owners to recoup some of the money they’ll lose due to the new coronavirus outbreak. But for Weiner, delivery allows him to turn beer and wine sitting on his shelves into money for his staff.

“I need as much cash in my bank and not on the shelves,” Weiner said. “And that’s what delivery allows me to do.”

Starbucks

4365 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60641 (773) 736-5226 Visit Website

Roots Pizza Old Town

1610 N. Wells Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website

City Winery

1200 West Randolph Street, , IL 60607 (312) 733-9463 Visit Website

Foxtrot

900 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614 Visit Website

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