After a year of relying on take-out sales to stay afloat, bars and restaurants in San Jose can continue selling alcoholic beverages to-go through Dec. 31 thanks to a recent extension of state rules.
Five Points, a cocktail bar in downtown San Jose, closed in March 2020, but was able to resume operations two months later by selling to-go cocktails, as well as meals provided by a contractor since they don’t have a kitchen.
Rolando Gomez, the bar manager, said that to-go drinks helped the business early in the pandemic, but was a demanding undertaking due to all the logistics of making it happen.
“We had to buy the equipment to put (the cocktails) in bottles, label them and everything,” he said. “And sit here. In the early days, it was a lot of sitting and waiting.”
Bars, restaurants and nightclubs are among the businesses most impacted by the pandemic shutdowns. Since these businesses encourage people to mingle in crowds, they were the first to close and the last ones to reopen for indoor operations.
Despite the extension, Gomez said Five Points stopped serving to-go cocktails once outdoor dining resumed in February. The bar’s focus is now on building a good experience for customers through seasonal menus and live events in their courtyard area following social distancing guidelines.
There’s also a new attraction: a Renaissance-themed menu to symbolize coming out of the Dark Ages.
“People are very excited (to come back to the bar), we’re staying creative over here and we just kept pushing,” Gomez said.
While Five Points no longer serves to-go drinks, data points to better business for those that do.
According to a report by the National Restaurant Association, 35% of take-out customers are more likely to choose a restaurant if it offers to-go alcoholic beverages. This was especially true among millennial customers, with 53% choosing a restaurant for its to-go drinks.
The Farmers Union, a tavern serving American fare in downtown San Jose, relied on corporate workers and event-goers pre-pandemic before last year’s shutdown disrupted operations.
“We were never a big takeout restaurant for food or cocktails, but we were able to do that (throughout the past year),” said Assistant Manager Jeff Worrell. “In the beginning, it was a lot. And now that things are more open, it’s clear we don’t get a lot of to-go alcohol orders at all.”
Despite the low demand for to-go drinks, Worrell says that The Farmers Union will keep serving them until the state rescinds the rule because some customers enjoy them and it requires no changes to the tavern’s current operations.
“It’s a benefit for the customers and it’s a benefit for us,” he said.