His spirits were buoyed by the boost in sales that came from newly legal to-go cocktails over Memorial Day weekend. “It easily added 30% to all of our revenues and actually helped push the decision for us to open our Malvern Stove & Tap,” he said. (The Malvern location relaunched on Wednesday with a drive-through and a hot dog giveaway.)
It’s a welcome change in tenor in the conversation around the restaurant industry during the coronavirus pandemic. And while not every bar and restaurant enjoyed the same surge in sales, other owners agreed that it felt good to make and sell drinks again.
“It’s a steppingstone to what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish,” said Scott Hockfield, who owns Wrap Shack sports bars in Rittenhouse Square and Midtown Village. Takeout and delivery accounted for roughly 25% of its sales before the shutdown, but since then business has leaned heavily toward delivery.
“You don’t want to be at 90% delivery when they open things up,” Hockfield said. “It’s always nice when people go into a restaurant — even if it’s for pickup — and think, ‘Oh, this would be a fun place to come for a drink later.’”
Within an hour of Gov. Tom Wolf’s legalizing to-go cocktails last Thursday afternoon, a line of socially distanced people formed outside the Wrap Shack on 11th Street near Sansom Street. (The Rittenhouse location is temporarily closed.) They came for draft Long Island iced teas and Moscow mules — and Patron margaritas.
“The cocktail of the year is going to be the margarita,” Weathers said, citing it as one of his restaurants’ best-sellers.
At Sancho Pistolas in Fishtown, 64-ounce growlers of margaritas sold out over the weekend, while 32-ounce containers moved quicker at Jose Pistolas and Pistolas del Sur in Center City and South Philly. “We really doubled our numbers. It’s not checkmate yet, but it definitely let me and my partner sleep a little better,” said co-owner Casey Parker. “Not being able to sell margaritas was really hurting us.”
The margarita was also a winner in New Jersey, where to-go cocktails were legalized earlier in May. At the Pour House in Westmont, 60% of orders tacked on a drink — most often a specialty margarita — according to Jake Karley, director of purchasing and planning for the PJW Restaurant Group, which also owns P.J. Whelihan’s, the Chophouse, and Treno Pizza Bar. (The Westmont Pour House has been operating with the Mexican-leaning menu from Central Taco and Tequila, one of its sister restaurants and Haddon Avenue neighbors.)
But in Pennsylvania, Karley said, only 30% of orders added cocktails, mostly P.J. Whelihan’s $6 vodka-laced orange crushes.
Only two-thirds of the group’s 25 restaurants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are open, and even with the new ability to sell cocktails, liquor sales accounted for just around 5% of last week’s sales. “When the bars are open, you’re typically at 40%,” Karley said. “But it was a holiday weekend, there were people away. We’re very optimistic about what these things are going to do.”
But Kovach was unsure that cocktails to-go would be a game-changer for the Lunar Inn, a neighborhood bar known for natural wine, casual food, and a vinyl-driven soundtrack: “I think it felt a little tempting to pin the big hope on the cocktail thing, like it’s going to radically change everything and make us all feel somehow better. And I don’t think that’s the reality for us at least.”
Regulars were excited to order cocktails, and bar employees welcomed the opportunity to mix drinks again (spicy mezcal cocktail, anyone?), but Kovach wonders if the bump to sales would have been more substantial back in April, when Pennsylvania’s liquor stores were closed, sending Philadelphians to New Jersey to buy alcohol instead.