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When it comes to combining dining out with enjoying alcoholic beverages, the rules can be as diverse as the menu options at your favorite drive-in restaurant. These unique eateries, where you can savor your meal from the comfort of your car, introduce an intriguing twist to the world of alcohol service. Let’s take a closer look at whether drive-in restaurants are permitted to serve alcoholic drinks and the legal intricacies that come with it.

A pit stop at the drive-in: what’s on the menu?

Before we explore the legal landscape of alcohol service at drive-in restaurants, let’s first get acquainted with what these establishments are all about. A drive-in restaurant is where patrons can order and enjoy their food without leaving their vehicles.

Typically, customers park in designated spots, place their orders through an intercom or by flashing their headlights, and patiently wait for carhop servers to deliver their meals and drinks right to their car windows.

The general illegality of drinking in a moving vehicle

One essential aspect of the legal framework concerning alcohol and vehicles is that sipping an alcoholic beverage while your vehicle is in motion is often illegal in many jurisdictions. This regulation arises from concerns about driving under the influence, recognizing that operating a vehicle while intoxicated poses a significant risk to public safety.

Consequently, for restaurants considering serving alcoholic beverages to customers in their vehicles, navigating the legal landscape can be a complex journey.

Serving alcohol in stationary vehicles

In numerous places, it might technically be legal for restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks to customers who are comfortably seated in parked vehicles with their engines turned off. However, despite the absence of a legal violation, this practice can still be fraught with risks for both the restaurant and the customer. Law enforcement officers may perceive such situations as potential attempts to circumvent open container laws or engage in drinking and driving.

Despite the technical legality of serving alcohol in stationary vehicles, many drive-in restaurants choose to err on the side of caution and avoid offering alcoholic beverages altogether. This decision is often driven by concerns over potential legal complications and liability issues associated with serving alcohol in a vehicle.

Additionally, these establishments may prefer to focus on providing convenient food services rather than navigating the complexities of serving alcohol in a car-bound setting.

Taking your beverage to-go is a safer option

While traditional drive-in restaurants tend to steer clear of serving alcohol for on-site consumption, some jurisdictions and establishments have discovered an alternative approach—offering alcoholic beverages to-go.

For instance, certain restaurants and stores have introduced drive-thru or carry-out services for alcohol, allowing customers to purchase sealed containers of alcoholic beverages with no immediate intent to consume them on the premises.

One notable example of this approach can be found in states like Wisconsin, where bars and restaurants are permitted to sell “drinks to go.” According to the Milwaukee Journal, customers can buy cocktails or other alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for off-site consumption, similar to purchasing alcohol from a liquor store.

This approach maintains a clear separation between enjoying alcoholic drinks and operating a vehicle, as immediate consumption of the alcohol in the car is not permitted.


The Lost Art of the Sunday Drive

Navigating the complexities of alcohol service at drive-in restaurants

While drive-in restaurants may technically serve alcoholic beverages to customers in parked, engine-off vehicles without violating specific laws, they often opt to forgo this practice due to the legal intricacies and concerns related to drinking and driving.

Customers and establishments need to remain well-informed about the specific rules and regulations governing alcohol service in their areas to ensure compliance with the law and the safety of all road users. So, while you can enjoy your meal at a drive-in, it’s best to save the sipping for a safer spot.