Restaurants, battered by the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year now, are expectant the summer will help them begin a recovery process.
But that recovery could take time, restaurant owners say, and industry leaders are now pushing to keep some of the pandemic's key provisions meant to provide a lifeline during the crisis. Allowing restaurants to pair takeout meals with alcoholic beverages has been a popular provision extended multiple times by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Restaurants in New York want it to stay.
DZ Restaurants Vice President Nancy Bambara said her company's eateries have seen their takeout revenue soar during the pandemic — with customers being able to take an alcoholic beverage playing a big role.
"During COVID, takeout has increased to almost 40, sometimes 50 percent of our business," she said on Wednesday from the company's Forno Bistro restaurant in Saratoga Springs. "The alcohol-to-go part of it is significant and it's relevant in our recovery efforts."
And keeping alcohol-to-go rules in place would help pave the way for that recovery, which could take some time, even as more fully vaccinated people venture outside and back to gathering spaces.
"I think it's a big part of the entire recovery effort and the long-term resolution of restaurants succeeding and being able to truly have the ability to provide the experience for people in their own homes. It's relevant for us," she said.
Economists expect the summer will bring a big recovery to an economy put on ice for more than a year. Bambara, however, thinks her industry will take a lot longer to get back to normal.
"So, we're still socially distanced, we're still under the six-foot spacing," she said. "I think people want to come to start to come into a restaurant, but it's going to be a very slow recovery. I think it's going to be 2023 before we see any type of normalcy in the restaurant industry."
Melissa Fleischut, the president of the New York Restaurant Association, agreed the recovery for the battered industry won't be overnight.
"We think there's still a lot of people out there that don't want to come back inside, that aren't ready to do this and takeout and delivery is still a really good option for them," she said.
Lawmakers are yet to take up a bill that would permanently extend it after passing on a provision to do so in the state budget last month.
"As we start to build back and reopen, questions are now coming up as to how much longer that will be able to happen," Fleischut said. "The Legislature has the authority to make it longer lasting, they can make it permanent for us."