Spring is here and about three million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but there are still quite a few restrictions in place, including for bars and restaurants.
It’s been a tough year for these establishments, and many were closed for months, or even permanently.
Although restrictions have loosened, there is still a 75% capacity limit for restaurants and bars outside of New York City.
Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, says members are actually focused on something else.
“Capacity limits are not our top priority in terms of the next phases of reopening,” Wexler explained. “For our members, the next change we would like to see is to remove the requirement that you have to have food if you come out to a restaurant or a bar to have a drink.”
This requirement that people order food with their drinks, Wexler says, is having a major impact on these businesses.
“The capacity requirement isn’t keeping folks out of some of our places,” Wexler emphasized. “It’s the fact that they don’t want to go out to dinner and then go out to have a second dinner so they can have an after dinner drink.”
Assemblyman Ed Ra says these rules seem arbitrary, along with the 11 p.m. curfew.
“Having mozzarella sticks in front of you doesn’t make you any less likely or more likely to get COVID,” Ra said. “It just doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of bars that maybe more of their business is that stop-by-for-a-drink-after-work, and they’re losing that.”
The state Liquor Authority did extend the state’s temporary order allowing these establishments to include alcohol to go for takeout and delivery orders through April 6.
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy currently has a bill in the Legislature that would make this order permanent for at least another two years.
“Virtually every restaurant will tell you this has helped keep the doors open because the mixed drinks the alcohol to-go, with a dinner order by the way, has really made a difference,” Fahy explained. "It also has a higher profit margin, and it has helped keep people employed. So it is something we would like to see continued.”
There has been pushback on this bill from liquor stores, but Fahy says that the intent of this bill is not for restaurants to sell bottles of alcohol with to-go orders.