PHOENIX — Forget about getting that margarita to go with your take-out order of fajitas, at least for the time being.
In a new directive, the head of the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control gave the go-ahead for his agents to once again begin enforcing a law that prohibits the sale of beer, wine or liquor to go from restaurants. John Cocca also said that police officers also are free to cite restaurants that violate the law.
All that follows a ruling earlier this week by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates that Gov. Doug Ducey acted illegally last March in allowing the restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages to customers picking up orders despite a state law to the contrary.
But the reinstated ban may be temporary.
Patrick Ptak, press aide to the governor, said his boss is still reviewing Gates’ ruling. More to the point, he said no decision has been made whether to appeal.
In the interim, though, restaurants that continue to provide alcohol with their to-go orders risk not only fines but loss of their state licenses that permit them to sell drinks to their dine-in customers.
The governor said his original order was designed to provide some financial relief to restaurants which had initially been shuttered for in-house dining. That left only take-out orders.
Even now, with restaurants allowed to operate at 50% capacity, Dan Bogert, chief operating officer of the Arizona Restaurant Association said his members still rely heavily on customers getting their meas to go.
“Without the ability to include alcohol with to-go orders, a key lifeline has been stripped from these businesses,’’ he said.
But Gates said that while Ducey’s declaration of an emergency gives him broad powers, it does not give him the right to override a specific decision of the legislature to preclude such off-premises sale of alcohol to restaurants. She did not buy his argument that his powers include not just dealing with COVID-19 but also any economic recovery.
If Gates’ order stands, there is recourse for the restaurants: ask the legislature to lift the ban on selling alcoholic beverages to go. In fact, Bogert said his organization is considering exactly that when lawmakers convene in January.
That, however, will get a fight from bar owners whose liquor licenses are more expensive.
One reason for that is they do not need to maintain sales of at least 40% of food items. But that license also gets them the to-go privileges that restaurants do not have.