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Margs for Life wants to extend alcohol to-go sales after pandemic; some concerned over more drunk driving

Since the first executive orders of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas, people could buy alcoholic drinks in to-go orders.

AUSTIN, Texas — Back in March, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a waiver allowing alcohol sales in to-go orders from restaurants. Now the group Margs for Life wants to make sure that waiver continues after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

With more than 8,000 people involved in the restaurant business joining the Facebook group, creator Kareem Hajjar hopes it's enough of a voice to make Abbott cement the ordinance long-term.

"It's to try to find the relief for restaurants to sell the products they've always sold in the way that they've always sold them," Hajjar said.

As it stands, alcohol sold must be manufacturer-sealed and meet a handful of other restrictions. This means restaurants cannot mix and then sell their own cocktails. They can sell the ingredients, but patrons must mix it themselves at home.

Hajjar said without being able to sell mixed drinks made at the restaurants, there is a large share of profits being overlooked.

"If you were wanting to buy a burger and, say, a Manhattan to go, you could not do it," Hajjar said. "If we look at that $12 burger, there's $6 worth of profit, give or take, in that burger. If you look at that Manhattan, there's $11 worth of profit in that $12 Manhattan. So when you look at that order that went from $12 with a $6 profit to $24 with a $17 profit, that's a real difference."

The move to sell alcohol to-go has been widely accepted by Texans. But a handful still have doubts on the safety of a measure like this.

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On social media, particularly Abbott's posts referencing possibly making this permanent, commenters say it may lead to more incidents of drunk driving. When asked for its take on the idea, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) declined to say whether it supported the idea of prolonging alcohol to-go sales. MADD wants to see evidence it increases drunk driving before taking a stance.

"MADD realizes these are difficult and different times for businesses," Nikki Vicnair, a program manager for MADD Central Texas, said. "We want to ensure that there [are] requirements in place just as if someone would go into purchase alcohol in a restaurant and sit down in an establishment."

In response to those who argue it could lead to more drinking and driving incidents, Hajjar said there are ways to make the idea safer.

"We already have current Texas law that requires that any container be outside the reach of the driver," Hajjar said. "That could be strengthened very easily by requiring it to be in the furthest compartment in the vehicle or even in the trunk."

Abbott hinted on social media he would be interested in extending the order beyond the constraints of the pandemic, but has declined to say more than that.

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