You weren’t hungry enough to order the entree, but you still had to order that bottle of your favorite wine. And now you want to go home, but your waiter says you can’t take the rest of the bottle because you didn’t order a full meal.
Help might be on the way, in a state Senate bill sponsored by Republican Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg.
Under the current “Merlot to go” law enacted in Florida in 2005, anyone wishing to take the rest of their wine home can only do so if they consumed the first part of the bottle with a “full course meal” — not an appetizer, not a sandwich, and not a fried fish basket.
The law is specific about what that meal must include: “A salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread.”
Brandes’ bill would eliminate that requirement and allow patrons to take their unfinished wine bottles home even if they eat nothing.
The original law was modeled after one New York created in 2004. Today, 48 states have “merlot to go” laws and 29 of them require meals.
The idea was that “wine doggy bags” would help reduce drunk driving — while helping restaurants sell wine. If patrons knew they could take the rest of their wine home, they wouldn’t be compelled to finish their bottles at the restaurant, supporters reasoned. They also wouldn’t be hesitant about ordering a full bottle of wine compared to just a glass or two.
It’s not difficult to surmise the reason: A full-course meal takes more time to consume and time counteracts effects of alcohol. But who is to say a patron won’t spend the same amount of time consuming an appetizer, sandwich or fried basket?
Eliminating the full-meal requirement wouldn’t affect other requirements. Restaurant staff would still be required to recork the bottle and seal it in a tamper-proof bag. If it’s going home in a motor vehicle, it must be secured in a locked glove compartment, locked trunk “or the area behind the last upright seat” of a trunk-less vehicle.
Two Senate committees have advanced the proposal. To become law, it would have to be approved by the full Senate, the full House and be signed by the governor.