Bakersfield is a town that loves its adult beverages, perhaps never more than now when tensions run high as families shelter in place and keep children occupied. So it was likely welcome news when California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control eased its rules around alcohol delivery last week. The move allows businesses selling food to also add beer, wine and mixed drinks to their takeout menus.
For restaurateur Alejandro Ocampo, it was welcome news.
"That changed everything," he said. "I had told all our bar staff that we weren't going to need them. We had to completely change our schedule. It’s been like a roller coaster, day-by-day scheduling.
Of the four restaurants that Ocampo owns or co-owns, only one — By the Way Cafe at Bill Wright Toyota — has closed temporarily. Camino Real Kitchen & Tequila, Vida Vegan, and Bakersfield Pizza Co. & Bar have all transitioned successfully to takeout only.
"What's really good for us, whether it's Camino or Bakersfield Pizza or Vida Vegan, we've been really active on Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash. We were doing well."
Once people started calling asking to add their favorite margaritas, micheladas or mimosas to their order, Ocampo said they were overwhelmed by how busy they got.
Orders for cocktails as well as fresh fruit juices and ginger shots at Vida Vegan have helped bolster business.
Feedback has been good for the mixed drinks, which are served in 32-ounce plastic containers. (By law, alcoholic beverages must be served in closed containers and transported in a vehicle's trunk or another area of the vehicle not occupied by the driver or passengers.)
Ocampo said, "They're meant to be shared or if they're really thirsty. And lately there's been a lot of thirsty people."
It's been a welcome addition since dine-in business often relies on cocktails, appetizers and desserts when you can "take an $11 entree and make it into a $28 meal."
At Moo Creamery, owner Jessica Pounds said adjusting to a new sales strategy has been the biggest change.
"It was scary as hell last week," she said. "Trying on the fly to pretty much change your business and marketing. It reminds me of when I first opened 11 years ago. You make food and you hope someone comes in to get it. You're so grateful for everyone coming through the door."
Pounds said adding alcohol to the takeout menu wasn't "a huge drastic change" as the majority of business has been from regular customers.
Since Moo already had a bottling setup in place for its cold pressed juices and catering event drinks, it was easy to get the packaging together.
Those juices have helped set Moo apart from other local offerings even though the restaurant doesn't have a huge cocktail program.
"We make good cocktails," she said.
Customers have been happy to have the option, Pounds said.
"People are looking at least to have fun and smile about something. ... It's a nice little add-on, a little bonus for our numbers."
The Crest Bar and Grill has also been happy to have the addition to the menu.
"People just wanted bloody marys," said Diane Hudgins, The Crest's general manager. "We told them, 'You have to order food, too.'"
(Another requirement for restaurants is that orders must contain food along with the alcohol.)
Hudgins said that while business has slowed, as it has all over, The Crest is "very fortunate to have some loyal customers from the neighboring area."
That includes workers from the nearby Bakersfield Auto Mall as well as residents in the adjacent Bakersfield RV Resort.
Signature drinks such as The Crest's bloody marys, mai tais and margaritas are packaged and enclosed in bags stapled close for smooth transport.
Hudgins said she's asked customers to post pictures of their order at home on social media and to tag the restaurant.
She, Ocampo and Pounds all stressed the important role social media is playing now in connecting with customers, many of whom are scrolling through Facebook and Instagram much more than ever.
Adjusting to customers' needs, whether it's offering cocktails or family meals, is also on all their agendas.
"We are hunkering down for takeout for as long as we have to," Ocampo said.