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Tartu restaurants ordered to stop selling cocktails via food courier

A cocktail.
A cocktail. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Restaurants in Tartu must stop selling cocktails via food courier due to the provisions of legislation which predates modern food delivery services.

Current law requires cocktails be only consumed on-site when purchased, meaning that even though some other alcoholic drinks, such as beer, can be ordered and delivered via a courier, cocktails cannot.

Some restaurants had up until now been unaware of the law, ERR reports.

One such restaurant, Little Cuba, situated on the banks of the Emajõgi River in Estonia's second city, is locally well-known for its Mojitos, ERR reports, and had previously made these available via food courier orders.

Raimond Tamm, Tartu deputy mayor, told ERR that: "Recently, a representative of the Agriculture and Food Board (PTA) approached our trade supervision specialist, who noted that the sale of cocktails via courier services was prohibited by law."

A formal notice was then issued to restaurants, who belong to the  Seven & Sons restaurant cartel.

Martin Sõgel, the association's CEO, said that the restaurant owners do not want to break the law and so are suspending couriered cocktail sales, though these had become more important to them due to the pandemic.

Sõgel said: "Twice we have been completely stuck, where any kind of to-go sale was the only way to survive. Our group of restaurants and bars grabbed the bull by the horns. In fact, a very large percentage of our income, the total turnover from which we were able to cover utility costs, and especially the salaries of our employees, derived from the take-out sales."

Merike Koppel, head of the business environment at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that the purpose of the provision was due to the differing nature of cocktails from regular alcoholic drinks.:

She said: "First of all, so that people in stores or in the apartment do not start mixing the alcohol themselves and then sell it only in a specific place. The consumer must come to a catering establishment, orders the drink there and it is prepared on the spot."

While the issue has caused confusion among businesses since the pandemic started, Koppel added, this did not mean that the law could simply be ignored, to the detriment of those businesses who were law-abiding.

In fact, it was an inquiry arising from such confusion that led to the law on cocktails being flagged in the first place, she said, adding that wanting an exception was understandable, but it was not yet viable to state what form that exception might take.

Sõgel pointed out that the law was drafted 20 years ago and does not take into account modern courier services. For example, there is nothing to stop a customer ordering a bottle of beer or wine at home, but not a cocktail.

While the ministry says it does plan to modernize legislation governing alcohol sales, this may take at least a year, while, ERR reports, the general election due in March 2023 may put this process back further still.

Food couriers such as Bolt and Wolt are permitted to deliver alcohol to customers, either as part of a restaurant food order or from a regular store using the service, with the same laws applying as in-person purchases; in other words, sales end at 11 p.m. and the customer must present when the courier arrives, to demonstrate they are aged 18 or over.

The pandemic led to a rise in the use of such ordering services.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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