If a new proposal by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker passes, restaurants currently open for takeout and delivery could soon be allowed to sell alcohol with their food orders. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito introduced the provision as part of a pandemic relief bill. It applies to establishments with existing liquor licenses.
The state's restaurant industry has been decimated since widespread shutdowns were ordered to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Over the past week or so, owners and supporters have been calling Gov. Baker's office urging the state to adopt changes as a means for survival.
Andrew Brady, co-owner of Field & Vine in Somerville, waited on hold to add his voice to the chorus. When the restaurant ban went into effect, he and his life/work partner Sara Markey closed their doors and were forced to lay off staff.
They decided to switch gears on March 24 (also dubbed “Takeout Tuesday” or “The Great American Takeout” by the national restaurant community), and started offering food for pickup — something he said the couple has never done since opening two and a half years ago. Brady explained how having the ability to add wine and beer to their customers' bills would definitely boost Field & Vine's bottom line and help them get through the ongoing crisis.
In pre-coronavirus times, he said “almost half of our revenue came from wine and beer.” Brady explained how liquor sales always have a higher profit margin because “there are no labor costs associated with it. So in terms of a way to keep the costs down — and then to get some more revenue — it would be extremely helpful for us to be able to sell beer and wine to-go.”
Field & Vine started as a pop-up. In 2017, Brady and Markey moved to their permanent space tucked away in a Union Square alley. They created a cozy dining room with vases of fresh flowers and earthy touches, including big jars of house-made pickles on open shelves. The seasonal menu features locally-sourced ingredients, small plated dishes often cooked over fire, and adventurous wines. Boston Magazine ranked Field & Vine No. 7 on its top-50 restaurants list in 2019.
Transitioning from an attentive nightly service in a dining room to packing boxes and bags for take-out has been an adjustment. Brady said their first go was “pretty hairy” because they were piloting different systems. “We're trying to keep it pretty simple for now since it's so new,” he said.
It was busy, but nowhere near normal, Brady said. There's a chance and hope that selling booze will change that.
The state legislature is expected to vote on the governor's bill this week. If it's approved, Massachusetts would join other states allowing alcohol with takeout, including New Hampshire and New York.
Field & Vine is ready and well-stocked with wine and beer, according to Brady. “We have enough to get us through probably a few weeks of sales,” he said.
The proposed legislation has limitations. Beer and wine must be sold in original, sealed bottles and cans. Amounts are limited to 192 ounces of beer (12 pint-sized cans or bottles) and 1.5 liters of wine (two bottles). And the alcohol must be sold as part of a takeout or delivery food transaction.
Brady believes preparing Field & Vine's food so people can take it home is the right decision for his business. The restaurant had a strong February, he recalled, and it was doing well for the first half of March. Brady and Markey just added 20 more seats to the restaurant. Now, "we're just waiting to open again,” Brady said.
The couple also has a new baby. Little Otis joined his parents for their inaugural night of takeout.