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A 24/7 Happy Hour: Coronavirus Creates Insane Surge in Home Drinking as the Quarantine Carries On

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f you’ve been catching yourself reaching for your favorite tequila or cracking open a beer earlier and earlier in the day since the start of the quarantine, you are not alone. For some Angelenos, being forced to chill at home is a hard pill to swallow. As it turns out, many of us can’t help but wash that pill down with a pilsner or two, and maybe a few generous pours of your preferred adult beverage. 

Los Angeles-based alcohol-delivery service Saucy recently saw incredible increases, reporting a 300 percent spike in whiskey sales since the “Safer at Home” emergency order. Vodka and limes increased by 350 percent and 250 percent, respectively. 

Minibar Delivery has seen similar staggering numbers in the weeks since Garcetti ordered all bars and restaurants shut down. Specifically, their total number of orders increased by 217 percent, and new orders went up by 570 percent. 

For alcohol-delivery service Drizly, the sales growth has been utterly titanic. A little over two weeks ago, Drizly reported that new customers accounted for 41percent of sales. A week later, the number of new buyers was 1,000 percent higher than last year. Yes, one thousand. 

An industry of 800,000 in hibernation 

“Sales are up 100 percent in grocery stores,” a source who works in the liquor distribution industry shares with L.A. Taco. “The shelves are wiped out. The stores literally get new loads of liquor every other day to replenish what’s being hoarded and [consumed].” He continues to say that the only change was in his schedule—strictly graveyard shifts in accordance with social distancing.

Los Angeles has always been a mecca of mingling, and the service industry providing 800,000 jobs in L.A. and Orange County has facilitated that. It only made sense that shutting down such a significant, saturated sector meant things were bound to get strange. 

Along Pine Street in Downtown Long Beach, bars have all been barred-off by their dusty pull-down gates. Paper signs are taped to each window detailing COVID-19 bans on public drinking, and beyond the windows—inside each empty establishment—jukeboxes and bar signs long for purpose. The whole street is one big nightlight suddenly unplugged. 

While ABC maintains they have no authority over private settings and their flexibility is strictly for the sake of service-industry employees, their leniency and support of delivery services have been integral in the current at-home drinking movement.  

At Anaheim Street Market, along with the mad dash for toilet paper, canned goods, and water, they have also experienced a spike in booze sales, reporting doubled alcohol sales despite an otherwise slow month.

Grocery stores like Ralph’s on Hollywood Boulevard, on the other hand, claim to have seen no spike in sales. In fact, their liquor-department head stated that the Coronavirus hadn’t impacted their percentages at all. “It’s always flying off the shelves,” he said.

Other prolific distributors in L.A. reported lackluster statistics as well, explaining that they depend on foot-traffic for sales. This has rendered business either slow or steady across the board, but not particularly booming. 

ABC’s newfound flexibility

This popularizing delivery trend probably has some to do with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. ABC’s new-found flexibility includes some lenient to-go laws, the reiteration of alcohol delivery, and the implementation of “curbside delivery.” 

ABC’s Public Information Officer, John Carr, said ABC is “loosening restrictions” because they understand “there are many people who need those paychecks to support themselves, their families, and their loved ones.” 

While ABC maintains they have no authority over private settings and their flexibility is strictly for the sake of service-industry employees, their leniency and support of delivery services have been integral in the current at-home drinking movement.     

Not every bottle bought is being tossed back, though. A portion of current alcohol sales points to stockpiling: a slew of folks imagining a day when they’ll need whiskey and wine to barter for bread and water. According to Drizly, consumers are placing larger orders, spending 25-50 percent more than normal. “This indicates a stock-up mentality,” says a Drizly representative. “People are making sure they’re prepared.” 

Another polarizing fact is that this spike in liquor sales via delivery Apps mostly benefits the bigger liquor brands owned by multinational conglomerates. Smaller liquor brands are rolling with the punches since they have yet to see an upward trend in sales.

To remedy the severe loss in revenue and simultaneously supply their employees with some (albeit skimpy) hours, most restaurants are offering to-go cocktails alongside their usual menu. These beverages are to be sold in sealed containers with no holes for straws or sipping, per ABC’s guidelines. 

Jen Frizzel, the manager of The Redwood Bar & Grill in downtown L.A. says while her to-go beer sales are surpassing to-go cocktails, the extension of the quarantine has inspired her staff to get creative. “We’re coming up with all kinds of ideas to market and sell our cocktails,” she says. “By the time this whole thing is over, I bet ABC opts to keep the to-go cocktail idea.” 

On the other hand, bar manager Olga Moedano cites the idea as being helpful in theory, but otherwise detrimental. “Bars [and restaurants] are losing money during this lockdown, period.”

Another polarizing fact is that this spike in liquor sales via delivery Apps mostly benefits the bigger liquor brands owned by multinational conglomerates. Smaller liquor brands are rolling with the punches since they have yet to see an upward trend in sales. “Small brands like us, who rely on the bar and restaurant business, are continuing to get creative online with content to stay relevant in the eye of the consumer,” says Gilbert Marquez of Ilegal Mezcal. 

He shares with L.A. Taco that they have been hit hard by bar closures around L.A. since they, like many other brands, are focused on bar sales rather than direct-to-consumer. ‘Who would imagine that mezcal would get this big in the first place? We worked hard to help get the category to the level it was before all this. We will work even harder to keep it going and make sure our production partners in Oaxaca make it through this with us.”

Still, a handful of Angelenos are definitely drinking more freely during these uncertain and stressful times. Bars and restaurants are socializing tools that tons depend on for relief. Without access to these outlets, drinking from home becomes the obvious alternative. And with some out of work, others ordered to work from home, and everyone in quarantine, the circumstances and adjustments have homogenized into a 24/7 happy hour. Cracking a beer on the clock or tossing back that morning tequila are more than acceptable practices in the days of COVID-19. 

If we must remain six feet apart, stuck at home with nothing but Tiger King to keep us from going crazy, a six-pack is not only something delivered, but deserved.

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