Bill allows restaurants to continue serving alcohol with to-go orders

CRANSTON – Gov. Dan McKee signed two pieces of legislation last week geared towards helping the local restaurant industry. 

The first will allow restaurants to continue the practice of allowing alcohol to be purchased with to-go orders, and the second will prevent third-party delivery services — like Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash — from listing a restaurant on their website without the business’ consent. 

“This is very important to me,” the governor said last Monday, since he knows first hand what it’s like to be on solid ground and then have “an economic crisis hit you in the middle of the eyes.”

The events of the past year and a half have been completely outside the control of small business owners, he added, and the economic fallout of the pandemic had hit the restaurant industry particularly hard. 

“Small businesses and locally-owned restaurants are the backbone of the Rhode Island economy,” McKee said. “Ninety-eight point nine percent of businesses in Rhode Island are small businesses, and we as a state cannot succeed unless our small businesses succeed.” 

“Throughout the pandemic, Rhode Island had a strong partnership with the small business groups and associations, providing incremental flexibility and support for our reopening,” he added. 

Those partnerships, along with a strong vaccine rollout, have allowed great local economic recovery. The Ocean State’s recovery has been one of the strongest in the county, according to Moody’s Back to Normal Index, which ranks Rhode Island at number three. 

According to McKee, during the first quarter of the year, the state’s gross domestic product grew at a rate of 7.2 percent — the 12th highest growth rate in the county, and higher than the national average of 6.4 percent. 

Between April 2020 and June 2021, Rhode Island unemployment rate fell from 17.4 percent to 5.9 percent — the ninth largest unemployment decline in the country. 

“We’re proud to report that our 5.9 percent unemployment rate is right in line with the national unemployment rate,” McKee said. “Something that took more than eight years for Rhode Island to achieve, coming out of the Great Recession.” 

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (Dist. 23 – Warwick) expressed his thanks to his colleagues for their support in helping to pass this legislation, which he believes will go a long way “to help everyday Rhode Islanders.” 

Legislation that will continue to allow the sale of alcohol with to-go orders was sponsored by Rep. Jacquelyn Baginski (Dist. 17 – Cranston), who has only been sitting in the General Assembly since November. 

“I’m a freshman legislator, so it’s particularly exciting for me to pass this bill as my first piece of legislation,” Baginski said, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of many of her colleagues, and particularly her co-sponsors. 

Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (Dist. 27 – Cranston, West Warwick) spearheaded this effort on the other side of the General Assembly. 

“It’s been a brutal year and a half for the restaurant industry,” Gallo said. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost some good ones during this pandemic, despite our best efforts to eat everywhere we could, get our takeout and make sure we bought our gift certificates.”

The Rhode Island Senate has made helping struggling people and small businesses a top priority this past year, according to Gallo, and this bill “is about giving restaurants another way to get by during the hard times.” 

“It’s a way to help them get back on their feet as we begin to hopefully put the worst times behind us,” she added. “With the Delta variant making some people wary of dining in again, it is another way for patrons to support the restaurants that they love, and to help them through the tough times.” 

In addition to all of the people who came together to pass this legislation, Gallo also said a special word of thanks to former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who initially instated the alcohol to-go policy at the height of the pandemic in effort to help restaurant owners boost their sales. 

The ceremonial bill signing took place outside Chaska — a relatively new Indian restaurant in Cranston’s Garden City that opened its door in February 2020 and was thankfully able to weather the hardships that came along with the pandemic. 

Rep. Baginski shared that she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that she and Sen. Gallo, also of Cranston, were the lead sponsors of this legislation, reiterating remarks made by Cranston City Mayor Ken Hopkins about Cranston being “the home of the most pro-business city in the state.” 

When it comes to ensuring restaurants have more autonomy over their brand, small business owners can thank Rep. Robert Craven Sr. (Dist. 32 – North Kingstown) and Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) for helping to spearhead this effort. 

Although he’s never personally used a third-party delivery service, Craven shared that he has “a couple of young sons who think that’s the only way you get food.” 

In the restaurant industry, “you’re only as good as your last bad meal, and what happens with these third-party delivery services is that if they don’t deliver the meal on time, if they don’t deliver it in the pristine condition that it left, then that leaves the control of the restaurant — and you get a bad reputation.” 

“This bill requires that anyone that’s in this third party delivery service business — the Grubhubs of the world — that those folks have to get permission to use the name of the restaurant if they deliver in that restaurant’s name,” Craven added, “and they have to register to do business here in Rhode Island.” 

In a word, this legislation is about owning your name, according to Lombardi.

“I’m very proud to be the sponsor of this legislation, which was the top priority of the restaurant industry this year,” Lombardi said. “The most valuable thing a restaurant — or any business — owns is its name. As any entrepreneur knows, the value of a brand cannot be overestimated.”

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