Assembly approves bills to boost RI’s restaurant
Take-out drinks to become permanent, outdoor dining protection extended
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved two measures to strengthen Rhode Island’s restaurant industry as the pandemic stretches toward the two-year mark.
The bills, which now head to the governor’s desk, will permanently allow restaurants and brewpubs to sell wine, beer and mixed drinks with takeout food orders, and extend a provision that assists restaurants in offering outdoor dining.
The first bill (2022-S 2153aa, 2022-H 7209A), sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick) and Rep. Jacquelyn Baginski (D-Dist. 17, Cranston), eliminates a March 1 sunset date on the law allowing takeout drinks, permanently allowing any Class B liquor license holders and brewpubs to sell up to two 750 ml bottles of wine, 72 ounces of a mixed-wine drinks, 144 ounces of beer, and mixed drinks with no more than nine ounces of distilled spirits with take-out orders. The provision was originally enacted to help restaurants weather the pandemic, and has proven popular, helpful to the industry and safe. The bill applies only to take-out orders, not delivery.
“The bill we passed last year to help the hospitality industry make up for the negative impacts of the pandemic proved extremely popular and it helped our restaurants immensely. Making this policy permanent is a common-sense approach to continue helping the hospitality industry recover from their devastating economic losses as well as allowing consumers an even greater option of products they can bring home from their favorite establishments,” said Representative Baginski.
Said Senator Gallo, “Our restaurant industry includes so many treasured small businesses that make Rhode Island the special place that is. They need every available tool to survive the pandemic. Take-out drinks have helped them stay afloat, bring in a little more revenue, and keep paying their employees and supporting our economy. Restaurants and consumers have shown that takeout drinks can be handled very responsibly, so we have every reason to make them a permanent feature of our state’s restaurant scene.”
The second bill (2022-H 7095, 2022-S 2134), sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown), allows restaurants to continue approved outdoor dining during the pandemic. It extends the moratorium on the enforcement of any municipal ordinance or zoning requirement that would penalize owners of food service establishments and bars for any modifications or alternations to their premises in response to an emergency declaration by the governor or local municipal officials. The bill extends the moratorium, which otherwise would expire on April 1, 2022, to April 1, 2023.
“The ‘Take It Outside’ campaign helped so many of our restaurants weather the brutal storm of COVID-19 and it proved to be a hit with the public as well. As we know, the pandemic is not yet behind us, so it makes sense to extend this outdoor dining practice in order to continue helping our restaurants economically and keeping consumers safe from COVID-19 while they enjoy their favorite food establishments. Our restaurants, when faced with a historic health and economic crisis, responded by creatively adapting to the circumstances, investing thousands of dollars to make their establishments safe for their guests. Rhode Island’s embrace of outdoor dining was an unexpected bright spot during the pandemic and it showed us a viable way to enhance our already spectacular and world-renowned restaurant industry. This bill is a win for our restaurants, our consumers and our communities as a whole and I am looking forward to continue dining outside with my family and friends as the warm weather returns to Rhode Island. I also encourage our municipalities to take a hard look at their zoning laws because I believe outdoor dining is here to stay,” said Representative McEntee.
Said Senator DiMario, “This bill is essential to our restaurants and bars that are still struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic. The legislation will also allow these establishments to apply to make these successful and popular changes permanent, such as the outdoor dining areas and takeout windows. Municipalities have given the feedback that they have not had enough time to get temporary zoning changes through their appropriate channels to make them permanent and that this extension is welcome.”