LONDON, ONT. -- Ontario is loosening alcohol rules to help restaurants survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province-wide closure of dining areas has hammered the bottom line of restaurants. While many are focusing on takeout and delivery options, liquor laws forbid including alcohol with the orders.

“At any restaurant, close to half their sales, if not more, is based on alcohol sales. So without that, you really feel that hit,” explains Matthew Reijnen of Pizzeria Madre in SOHO.

So Thursday the province announced a loosening of liquor laws, to temporarily permit the inclusion of beer, wine and spirits in takeout and delivery orders from restaurants.

Participating restaurants must follow some basic rules, including:

  • orders must include the purchase of food.
  • alcohol must be in a sealed container (bottle, can, etc.)
  • sales are only permitted between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Third-party and online food delivery services can be utilized.

Pizzeria Madre wasted no time adding craft beer and wine to its to-go menu.

“Treat it as you would if you were coming in here to eat,” Reijnen recommends, “a bottle of wine to split, or a beer that might go well with a pizza.”

Reijnen hopes the benefits extend beyond customers and restaurants to include the entire supply chain of breweries, wineries and distilleries.

At Storm Stayed Brewing on Wharncliffe Road, the taproom is closed and demand for kegs has sputtered since restaurants stopped selling beer by the glass.

Justin Belanger says offering cans to his restaurant customers will help in the short term.

“Potential licensee sales that they can do off-site will help them stay open and it will also help us stay open.”

Belanger believes the change will be a lifeline for larger craft brewers with their own canning or bottling equipment.

“This will be a great benefit to them, and it will allow the brewing scene to keep on going.”

Reijnen adds, “If we’re selling beer, they’re selling beer. if we’re selling wine, they’re selling wine. It’s good for all of us.”

The new takeout alcohol rules will continue until Dec. 31.