Hurting Butler County restaurants get boost from carryout alcohol sales

Restaurants and bars that lost a powerful source of revenue when all dine-in service was shut down more than a month ago recently gained some back, albeit in a different form than usual.

Businesses that have a liquor license for on-premises consumption are able to sell two pre-packaged alcoholic drinks, including high-proof liquor, to go with a carryout meal, following an announcement made April 7 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Getting permission to do so has made an immediate difference at West Central Wine in downtown Middletown, which started offering its popular Cruzan Rum Buckets as a to-go option starting last Thursday along with already available signature food options like homemade hummus, pasta salad and Italian sandwiches, according to co-owner Monica Nenni.

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“I ordered 100 pouches online just to give it a try and, in the three hours we were open after I posted it, sold 50 of them,” Nenni said.

Business was similarly brisk on Saturday.

“I was just really overwhelmed (and) pleasantly surprised at the response,” she said.

West Central Wine has also found that the increased business generated by the cocktail-to-go option has allowed new and existing customers to become acquainted with the store’s retail options, which have been put on display more prominently via a newly modified layout.

Many restaurants make a higher profit margin on cocktails, wine and beer than they do on the meals they serve. Even those restaurants that were selling carryout and delivery meals saw revenues plunge without the ability to serve alcohol, although some could sell beer and wine and carryout.

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El Mariachi Mexican Restaurante & Cantina in Hamilton, which opened 18 years ago, typically sells many margaritas, and because the ample supply of the ingredients it had on hand made it easy to put together a to-go option in “just minutes,” according to co-owner Jorge Rodriguez.

Customers take home an elongated plastic drinking cup in which the ingredients can be mixed, Rodriguez said.

“It helped us a lot,” he said. “Once we started offering (to-go) drinks, we’ve been a little busier. That gives more money to pay bills and our employees.”

Tano Bistro in Hamilton launched a new “Take & Shake” option Tuesday for customers with any carryout meal purchase. That includes an a Ginger Pear Martini (pear vodka, Canton ginger, triple sec, lime and crystalized ginger), White Sangria (white wine, Canton ginger, basil, strawberry, orange and cherry) and an Old Fashioned (bourbon, IPA simple syrup, cherry and toasted orange).

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“We just sold our first two about an hour ago, so we’ll see how it goes,” Tano Bistro general manager Tyler McCleary said Tuesday afternoon.

The “food-forward” restaurant had discussed the to-go option even before the coronavirus pandemic as a way of capitalizing on demand for its cocktails and “mostly as a way to do something different,” he said.

The restaurant can offer other mixed drinks on its menu, but chose the aforementioned four options because they are the most popular.

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