Restaurant industry advocates are accusing Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers of bending to the will of “powerful package store lobbyists” over struggling restaurant owners after the Legislature and the the Baker administration passed on extending pandemic-era protections including cocktails to-go.
When Baker ends the pandemic state of emergency on June 15, the clock will start ticking on dozens of emergency orders and Massachusetts Restaurant Association President Bob Luz said that includes to-go beverages as well as a temporary cap on third-party delivery fees that have become crucial to sustaining hard-hit restaurants.
“We’re just asking for an extension of this to try to get to a firmer footing for restaurants,” Luz told the Herald.
While a provision extending outdoor dining for establishments was approved until the fall, the other restaurant provisions were conspicuously absent from a bill filed Tuesday by Baker.
Senators this week also passed on their chance to extend the provisions, rejecting several budget amendments by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, that would have extended them by two years.
DiZoglio accused Baker of siding with “powerful package store lobbyists over our local mom and pop restaurant owners who are relying on programs like this to survive.”
“Expanded take-out and delivery options have helped keep our mom and pop restaurants afloat during the pandemic with revenue generated from to-go beverage sales assisting local restaurants in paying the rent and keeping countless employees off unemployment,” DiZoglio told the Herald via text message, adding “it is imperative this program remain in place following the end of the state of emergency.”
The Massachusetts Package Stores Association has opposed the cocktails to-go legislation since it was first floated last summer. This week, lawmakers told the Herald they were blasted by another letter from the organization pressing them to reject any additional expansion.
But DiZoglio was undeterred. She said she would be “fighting tooth and nail” in the Senate to see cocktails-to-go and third-party delivery fee caps added to the list of extensions once the pandemic orders expire.
Restaurants garnered $19.1 billion in sales in 2019 but dropped more than $8 billion amid the pandemic last year, Luz said.