Cocktails-to-go are sticking around in Rhode Island

Luigi’s in Johnston serves booze in a bag to cope with pandemic business losses

Posted 8/27/21

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the Ocean State’s restaurants.

Although the past 18 months have shuttered many eateries, one positive change seems to be sticking around — …

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Cocktails-to-go are sticking around in Rhode Island

Luigi’s in Johnston serves booze in a bag to cope with pandemic business losses


The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the Ocean State’s restaurants.

Although the past 18 months have shuttered many eateries, one positive change seems to be sticking around — alcohol-to-go.

A refrigerated case next to the cash register at Luigi’s Restaurant & Gourmet Express offers customers the chance to take alcoholic beverages, like red and white Sangria in pouches with straws, home with their order. Think Capri Suns for adults.

“Cocktails-to-go have helped us, absolutely,” said Luigi’s Dining Room Manager Mia Bucco. “We had an empty bar, but alcohol-to-go allowed people to have a cocktail, prepared by a bartender, in their home. You couldn’t go out, but you could stay in for date-night.”

The tweaking of liquor laws in Rhode Island, and many other states, allowed restaurant’s like Luigi’s to “outsource our bartender’s potential,” Bucco explained.

The outlook for restaurants became bleak after the pandemic hit and indoor dining came to a halt. 

Dale Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association (RIHA), has been there in the bleakest of days, looking for any way possible to keep the industry alive.

Last Monday, Venturini stood among legislators waiting outside Chaska restaurant in Cranston in the blazing heat to celebrate some good news.

Along with Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee and local legislators Venturini witnessed the signing of bills, which went into affect last month allowing restaurants to continue selling alcohol with to-go orders and stop third-party delivery services from listing businesses without their consent.

The heat didn’t deflate Venturini’s spirits. She was all smiles for the duration of the event. She has waited months just for this moment.

“While we’re fortunate that many of the COVID restrictions for businesses have been lifted, the restaurant industry in particular continues to suffer from the devastating economic impact of the last year and a half,” Venturini said. “Our restaurants are in desperate need of every cent that comes their way.”

Venturini soaked up every moment of the ceremony.

RIHA represents over 700 foodservice, hotels, vendors and hospitality members in the state and has been the voice of the hospitality and foodservice industries in Rhode Island since 1963.

“As Rhode Island’s hospitality industry continues to recover, the two pieces of legislation signed into law yesterday are important steps toward our hopeful return to normalcy,” Venturini said. “The Alcohol-to-Go legislation will now continue at least until March, and businesses are finally protected from having their products, menus, names and other properties offered by third-party delivery services without their consent.”

State Sen. Hanna Gallo and state Rep. Jacquelyn Baginski were sponsors of the to-go-alcohol bill.

“We need this industry, which includes so many treasured small business that make Rhode Island the special place that it is, to survive the pandemic,” Gallo said. “This simple extension of take-out drinks will help them stay afloat, bring in a little more revenue, and keep paying their employees and supporting our economy.”

The bill allows Class B liquor license holders to sell up to two bottles of wine, 144 ounces of beer, and mixed drinks in original factory sealed containers with takeout orders. It also would allow 144 ounces of draft beer or 72 ounces of mixed drinks in growlers, bottles or other sealed containers. The legislation does not apply to delivery orders. 

State Representatives Robert Craven, Justine Caldwell, and Carol McEntree sponsored the second bill; it prevents third-party delivery services, such as DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats from listing businesses without their consent. 

“This law will ensure that the public and our small business know exactly who they are doing business with and it will bring transparency and fairness to the rapidly emerging technologies in our lives,” Craven said.

Chaska owner and host of the event, Sanjiv Dhar, posted on the restaurant’s Instagram reflecting on the legislative signing ceremony.

“It was once again a great reflection of our (community’s) strength in these turbulent times. Both pieces of legislation will be deeply impactful for small businesses in Rhode Island, especially restaurants,” said Dhar.

Although events of the past year have caused many challenges, according to Venturini, the unity in the hospitality industry has never been stronger. She spoke highly about the work not only legislators are doing to keep local restaurants alive, but communities and neighbors.

“We want to thank Governor McKee, Senators Hanna Gallo and Frank Lombardi, and Representatives Jacquelyn Baginski and Robert Craven for their support of these bills,” Venturini said. “Together as a community, we continue to accomplish the goals and meet the needs of our industry operators, partners and patrons, one step at a time.”

According to McKee these two bills are only one piece of the puzzle for the recovery of the hospitality industry. He also touched on a package for next year’s budget that he said will be centered on small business issues. The vast majority of businesses in Rhode Island are small businesses.

Luigi’s alcohol sales have continued to climb, and cocktails-to go have helped keep the business on solid footing.

Of course, people can make drinks at home themselves. However, cocktail mixing requires a particular skill set.

For example, Pineapple Doli, one of the cocktails-to-go offered at Luigi’s in Johnston, features chunks of fresh pineapple floating in a pineapple-infused vodka.

“Pinapple Doli is a homemade infusion,” Bucco said. “It takes about two weeks to make so it’s not ideal to make yourself, at home. You can shake it, serve it on the rocks, add soda water or ginger ale.”

Businesses like Luigi’s have long been providing dinner-to-go. Now they can include the beverages.


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