New Liquor Liability Exposures as Restaurants Deliver Alcohol

Since stay-at-home orders began this past spring, many restaurants switched to delivery and to-go orders only. While some states kept limited capacity seating open indoors, most of the business conducted was off-site to help restaurants survive. But between third-party delivery fees and the loss of alcohol sales, profits are still taking a major hit. Multiple states have tried to help by loosening their liquor laws. New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland, California, Illinois, and Texas all made temporary changes that allow alcohol delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. More states have also passed similar laws. As a result, many restaurants have sold beer, wine, and even cocktails with to-go orders. And while this may be a boom for profits, it may also be leading to new liquor liability exposures.

Here’s a look at these exposures in the restaurant industry.

Over-Serving Liability

Restaurants and bars usually have to be careful not to overserve customers. With the shift to to-go orders, this may be easier said than done. Restaurants aren’t required to ask if purchases will be shared or consumed by only one person.

As a result of this, one customer could pick up the order–say, a large amount of alcohol–drink all of it, and end up with alcohol poisoning. In the end, the restaurant is held liable. When considering offering alcohol sales, it’s crucial for restaurants to protect against these common liquor liability exposures.

Drunk Driving

Getting your beer to go sounds great, but it could lead to significant liability exposures for restaurants. Drinking and driving is a substantial concern for restaurants that have switched or still have to-go alcohol services.

When people pick up their alcohol orders and head back out on the road, they’re supposed to wait until they get home to enjoy them. But after they drive away, how is a restaurant supposed to dictate this? What’s to stop someone from taking a sip or two or more while on the road?

In response, some states have addressed this with various requirements and restrictions. For example, in the state of Washington, pre-mixed beverages need to be placed in the trunk or another area that the driver cannot access. Furthermore, cocktails must be packaged with a secure cap or lid that stops the driver from consuming it unless it is removed.

Underage Drinkers & Masks


Although liquor laws are becoming more relaxed in many states, one thing that is the same is that the legal drinking age is still 21.

To-go liquor orders from restaurants may make age requirements challenging to control. Someone who is 21 or older may pick up an order to share with someone under 21. Of course, this situation can take place regardless of a pandemic or not.

On the other hand, masks are another issue that restaurants face regarding liquor liability exposure. Checking IDs may be a little more difficult now that so many people are wearing masks to curb the transmission of COVID-19. It’s easy to see how someone under the age of 21 might take advantage of the situation and use someone else’s ID while buying alcohol.

If they then go on to drink alcohol passed the point of alcohol poisoning or get into a crash under the influence, the restaurant that sold the beverages could be held liable.

Some states are lifting their stay-at-home orders, thus making to-go ordering less of a necessity. However, given the success of to-go and delivery options, many restaurants may keep these for customers. As restaurants adapt to this new normal, they must be made aware of their liability exposures that alcohol sales incur.

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