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Louisiana changes law, but still no third-party companies delivering alcohol

David Jacobs

The Center Square

When Louisiana lawmakers legalized alcohol delivery last year, they set up a system that allowed third-party companies to deliver for stores and restaurants that didn’t want to do it themselves.

But the third-party rule came with a catch: Only companies that used direct employees as drivers, rather than contractors, would be allowed to participate. At the time, Louisiana only had one such company that qualified: Lafayette-based Waitr.  

And now there are none; at least, none have yet come forward. Even Waitr never applied to participate, and the company just announced plans to lay off more than 2,000 employees and move to “an independent contractor driver model.”

“A number of Louisiana establishments have received delivery permits and have elected to deliver alcohol using their employees,” said Ernest Legier, deputy commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. “However, the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco  Control has not received any third party applications for alcohol delivery.”

Though Louisiana’s rule is unusual among states that allow alcohol delivery, lawmakers who supported the restriction said it was a way to maintain accountability and help ensure the program’s other rules, such as those meant to prevent underage drinking, are followed.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, said during a committee debate that “there is a level of comfort” in dealing with “actual employees of the company versus independent contractors.” Companies often use contractors to dodge liability when something goes wrong, he noted.

Morrell said he was “vehemently opposed” to allowing contractors to deliver alcohol but added it might be appropriate to revisit the issue after a few years.

Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican, spoke up against the restriction during last year’s session. He said he was worried about creating a monopoly, since Waitr was thought to be the one third-party food-delivery company that qualified.

Louisiana’s insistence on direct employees contradicts the industry’s standard practice, Ivey said Tuesday.

“The whole point is, ‘Hey, you can work when you want to,’” he said. “This is the very definition of a contract worker.”

Donny Rouse, third-generation CEO of family owned Rouses Markets, testified in committee against the restriction. In an interview Tuesday, he said his stores already are making food deliveries through companies that use contractors and wants to give his customers the option of adding beer and wine to their weekly order.

Rouse and Ivey point to Waitr’s recent struggles as evidence that a direct-employee model is a difficult one to make work. Both hope legislators tweak the law in this year’s session, which begins March 9.

“There are a couple of businesses that may be using their own employees to deliver,” Rouse said. “I think the vast majority [of retailers] are waiting for a new law to take effect. Hopefully, we can get something passed this session.”