Editorial: Boosting the hospitality industry 

There have been many executive orders signed by Governor Janet Mills since the COVID-19 pandemic began that have changed the way people live and how businesses operate. But there is one change that may remain even after those orders expire: the ability to serve togo beer, wine and cocktails.  

Senator Louis Luchini (D-Hancock) introduced a bill last month to extend the sale of to-go booze until April 22, 2022, if the sale is accompanied by a food order. It would also allow distilleries that operate tasting rooms (but do not have a retail license) to sell spirits through takeout and delivery unaccompanied by a food order.  

This bill seeks to extend these practices that have been in place since March but would not be allowed under current law otherwise. 

This past year has been challenging for most every business, but restaurants have been hit especially hard. Giving them any opportunity to boost their revenue is something worth considering. 

Eating establishments are bound to a few rules about how they organize and execute the togo service. Overall, those rules have allowed struggling restaurants, bars and tasting rooms the opportunity to increase check averages by providing beverage options to travel along with food.  

For restaurants and tasting rooms, which operate under the slimmest of margins in good times, a three-month shutdown, followed by limited occupancy and the need for a physically distant guest experience, pushed some to the brink.  

Six months into the pandemic, the National Restaurant Association surveyed restaurant owners and found that 1 in 6 had either closed permanently or were experiencing a prolonged closure.  

The hospitality sector in Maine, which includes restaurants and lodging establishments, saw record drops in sales this past year.  

With roughly 50,000 employees statewide, it is estimated that the entire sector contributes $5.2 billion each year to the state’s economy.  

The restaurant industry alone in 2020 experienced a 58 percent drop in revenue between January and April and a 30 percent drop in revenue between April and July compared to 2019, according to studies conducted by the University of Maine published in September.  

As we head into another questionable summer season likely to feel the lingering effects of the pandemic, it is vital to look at every sector of Maine’s economy and figure out how to raise them up.  

This is one idea worth supporting, but we hope that Maine’s legislators continue to seek ways to help not only the hospitality industry but also all of the roughly 140,000 small business that make Maine great.  

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