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Does Alcohol To Go Have A Chance To Survive The Pandemic?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Every day, certain rules and habits are broken because of COVID-19. Sarah Gonzalez with our Planet Money podcast reports that there are a few rules some restaurants hope will stay broken.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: OK, there's this restaurant in San Diego that makes this drink called a michelada.

YVAN JAZO: So the michelada comes from Mexico - a salted rim, lime, ice, kind of like a Mexican soy sauce, we like to call it, and the beer.

MONICA JAZO: We rim it with - it's not spicy, but it's like sweet...

Y JAZO: Chili powder.

M JAZO: ...Chili powder.

GONZALEZ: That's Monica and Yvan Jazo.

M JAZO: We're brother and sister, yeah. TJ Oyster Bar is our restaurant name, and it's really just because we're from TJ.

Y JAZO: TJ is basically short for Tijuana.

GONZALEZ: And it's like street food, kind of style.

Y JAZO: Basically it's street food, yes.

GONZALEZ: It's a seafood spot.

M JAZO: And, Sarah, for you, would you like a tamarindo michelada?

GONZALEZ: But we're doing this to go.

M JAZO: OK. Yes, of course. You can take your drinks to go - your micheladas, your wine to go.

GONZALEZ: Drinks to go.

M JAZO: We put it in a plastic cup, and we seal it, so you can take it. We recommend that you don't open it until you get home.

GONZALEZ: For years, taking cocktails off the premises was not allowed in most of the U.S., with a few exceptions - New Orleans, Las Vegas. But recently, California and a lot of states have told restaurants never mind with the old pre-COVID rules about cocktails. We know you need to make money, so now selling a cup of wine to go is allowed.

M JAZO: I remember that I was, like, afraid at first because it's been, like, such a - like, you can't do that. You can't sell alcohol to go. People can't be outside of the, like, door drinking a beer because we can get in trouble. But then, like, all of these restrictions that we had start, like, loosening.

GONZALEZ: And at first they thought, this is great, until they had to start handing off cocktails to food delivery drivers.

M JAZO: What made me nervous was that they looked very, very young, and we were giving them, like, micheladas, Clamatos, wine to go. And we started carding them.

GONZALEZ: You were asking the DoorDash drivers for their ID?

M JAZO: Yes.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

Monica and Yvan Jazo just had to send in their alcohol license. The delivery apps take care of the rest. They were making just 20% of their normal sales doing food to go only when the pandemic first hit. But now, because customers can order a few beers with their takeout tacos, their sales are up a little. They're 60% what they used to be.

Y JAZO: It's a lot easier to open a beer and serve it to a customer than to make a taco. You have to peel the shrimp, do the tortillas...

GONZALEZ: There's another suspended rule, too - drinking outdoors. In normal times, there was this rule that if a restaurant in California wanted to serve a beer on a sidewalk, they had to build some kind of barrier.

Y JAZO: You need this - it's, like, another special permit. And it's hard on businesses, too, because you have to spend more money to do that stuff.

GONZALEZ: Now everything is outside, though - nail salons, barbershops. You don't need a special permit. You don't need to build a special fake fence out of flower pots or something like that. And Monica and Yvan Jazo think customers might not want to go back to the days where everything can only happen indoors and you can't walk out of a restaurant with a michelada beer in your hand.

Oh, my gosh. The little salty, sweet chili rim - no matter how much you try to make these at home, they just don't taste the same.

Sarah Gonzalez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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