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Staff illustration by Cindy Deifenderfer and Getty Images / As of March 27, businesses have permission to acquire a special 30-day off-site beer permit that would allow the delivery of commercially sealed beer— such as cans, bottles or growlers— to be ordered for delivery.

Being able to offer beer, mixed drinks and wine via takeout or delivery has helped several area restaurants stay open and keep employees working, but not everyone who can is choosing to offer delivery.

"We weighed the pros and cons, and in the end it is not something we wanted to tackle," said Joe Winland, owner of Heaven & Ale Brewing Co.

With locations on the North Shore and Main Street, Winland said he believes Mayor Andy Berke's decision to allow people like him to find a new, albeit temporary, way to stay in business was the right one, but he didn't feel he could add the responsibility of delivering alcohol to customers on his drivers' shoulders.

"I think the initial order by Mayor Berke was awesome and the motivation to help us is great, but once I looked into the minutia of it, I didn't think I could do it," Winland said. "I'm not sure my employees' vehicles would be covered by insurance, for example."

Berke signed the executive order on March 27, granting businesses permission to acquire a special 30-day off-site beer permit that would allow the delivery of commercially sealed beer— such as cans, bottles or growlers— to be ordered for delivery.

Only employees 21 years or older who work for businesses that acquire the permit are allowed to deliver the beer. Standard identification and beer sale laws still apply. Businesses who want to inquire about a permit can email Bertha Lawrence at bglawrence@chattanooga.gov.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had issued a similar order allowing for off-site sales of wine and spirits, and the cities of Collegedale, Lakesite, Soddy-Daisy, East Ridge and Red Bank started allowing businesses to sell alcohol for off-premise consumption via carryout and delivery with the purchase of food last week.

Winland has been offering curbside pickup, selling growlers and six packs of beer, and said that business has been good.

 

"I have one person running that, and you can pull up, and we will open your back door and put the beer in the car for you," he said.

For Erik Niel, co-owner of Easy Bistro, which he has closed altogether, and Main Street Meats, being able to sell alcohol to go has been a "lifeline" that has allowed him to bring back a few laid-off employees and replace some of their lost revenue.

"We threw the idea of making money out the window weeks ago," he said. "I mean, 2020 is a loss, but for a restaurant that normally does 35-40% of its business from beverage sales, to be able to replace even 10 or 15% is awesome."

He said the margins on the high-end meats the restaurant sells are low, and beverage sales help the restaurant survive. Because all of this happened so fast, he said, he hasn't really looked too deeply into the delivery option, but his restaurant was able to fine-tune what it does by offering food to go, as well as Old-Fashioneds and Margaritas either by the 4-ounce drink or by the quart.

They are created in large batches to control costs and served in sealed containers along with the food items.

"Is it a silver bullet? No. But any gain is a plus. It's all about survival instincts right now," Niel said.

"I don't want to run afoul of the law, but what do we do to maintain some of our staff? This is my goal today [Tuesday] is to look into this."

Josh Weyler, owner/managing partner of Dinner Delivered, a service used by many area restaurants, has been delivering beer and alcohol from local breweries and liquor stores for almost a year. He said that even though Tennessee Governor's Executive Order 22 makes alcohol delivery legal until April 14, even for employees who do not have permit cards or certification from the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission, his insurance company isn't ready to sign off on his noncertified drivers.

"We've partnered with liquor stores in Chattanooga since last July and added Cleveland and Athens, Tennessee, since then," he said.

"We are leery about to-go alcohol, to be honest, right now. We have about 200 drivers, and about 20 are ABC-certified and our insurance said they would not insure the other 180."

Plus, he said, business from the breweries and liquor stores is up about 300% in recent weeks and he couldn't afford to take those 20 drivers away from making those deliveries. He added that the vast majority of beer and alcohol sales come from people who get home and decide to order a meal delivered and add a bottle of wine or a 12-pack of beer with the order, though the number of large orders from people worried that stores would close or run out did increase a few weeks ago.

"We have very few large orders. Maybe they got home, had a beer or two and didn't want to drive," he said.

Weyler said that since offering the service, the company has had little trouble with customers trying to abuse the service. The drivers have been trained the same as restaurant wait staff and bartenders on things such as checking identification and overserving someone who is already inebriated.

"Customers have to show ID and a credit card that matches what we have on file," he said. Under the current circumstances, they show those through a closed door and the items are left on the porch.

Weyler said he doesn't believe the city or state will look to allow restaurants to deliver alcohol once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, and even if it did, he isn't sure he would change his business model.

"I don't know. We'd have to talk with the insurance company, but it is so 'Wild, Wild West' out there right now," he said.

Weyler said Dinner Delivered has waived its normal $4.99 delivery charge, but so far customers have been tipping and taking care of the drivers.

"I think they appreciate what they are doing and trying to support local. These are our friends and family and neighbors."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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