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How Alcohol Regulators Becam eht "COVID Police" for Bars and Restaurants

Steve Schmidt

Prior to COVID, the alcohol industry was already pushing the boundaries of alcohol availability. Consumer preferences for locally produced products gave rise to tasting rooms at craft breweries and craft distilleries. Some manufacturers evolved into full bars and restaurants, an innovative concept but one that put pressure on alcohol regulators to adapt to new business models. Alco-tourism and non-traditional spaces requesting access to alcohol (e.g. movie theaters, nail salons) also forced alcohol regulators to examine past rules and regulations. The start of the COVID pandemic upended the previous status quo and forced alcohol regulators into a new role.Alcohol regulators became known as the “COVID police” in control-state jurisdictions, where state governments issued health guidelines for on-premise venues. State regulatory compliance units were charged with enforcing seating restrictions, physical distancing, and monitoring curbside delivery compliance. While many communities already had a precedent for collaboration, COVID solidified the need for inter-agency coordination of safety agencies, including health departments and fire departments. COVID shined a light on how cooperation among hospitality venues and key government agencies at the city, county and state level is key to balancing consumer demands with the need for public health and safety. Steve Schmidt offers insight on how COVID has changed the world of alcohol regulation, and what he predicts for the future. Schmidt is Senior Vice President for Public Policy of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA). NABCA represents all 18 of the control jurisdictions within the US. In his work in public policy communications, Steve is involved in policy discussions at the state and national level; further working to educate consumers.

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