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Restaurants Say They Still Need More Help To Survive COVID

Eric Risberg

Governor Andrew Cuomo said dining in New York City can operate at 75% of capacity beginning May 7, bringing rules in the City in line with the rest of the state.

COVID-19 restrictions are easing for dining at restaurants and drinking at bars across the state, but the industry, hit hard by the pandemic, says more needs to be done.

This week, the state Legislature ended an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo that required food to be served with all alcoholic drink orders. It had been in place ever since bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen last summer.

The measure passed unanimously in both houses on April 28. Senator Ed Rath, from the Buffalo area, supported legal challenges from some western New York restaurants to end many of the restrictions, including limits on indoor dining capacity and curfews. He spoke on the Senate floor.

“While this is a welcome step, it’s taken far too long to get here,” Rath said. “It shouldn’t take lawsuits and court hearings for our struggling restaurants to be heard.”

Rath said the state’s own data shows that the coronavirus accounts for just a small percent of transmissions of the disease.

Hours before the vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he, too, favored ending the food requirement. He also said he’d lift midnight curfews on restaurants and bars later in May.

Many restaurants and bars expressed relief.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, is also encouraged by New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio’s announcement that he intends to fully reopen New York City by July 1. But Rigie, in a statement, said government leaders can do more to help. They’d like to see a temporary rule that permits take out alcoholic drinks be made permanent, saying it will be awhile before everyone is comfortable dining inside.

Patrick Noonan runs El Loco Mexican Café in Albany and is the chair of a group of independently owned restaurants and bars. He said the take-out drink sales helped keep restaurants from closing and decreased the need for layoffs.

“Permanent, to-go cocktail policy in New York would be most appreciated,” said Noonan, who said recent surveys show 63% of patrons intend to continue ordering cocktails to go, even when full indoor dining is allowed.

Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from Cohoes, supports the bill, sponsored by Albany Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. He said ordering mixed drinks as part of his New Year’s Eve to-go dinner order was a nice treat during the long pandemic-restricted winter.

“It was great to have something professionally put tougher,” McDonald said.

The restaurant groups also want to limit charges by third party delivery services. They said some services like Uber Eats and Grub Hub take up to one third of the bill for the food order.

And, they said the federal and state bureaucracies need to be better at connecting restaurants to grants and loans provided in the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund. They said the money can be used for, among other things, improving indoor air quality in their establishments.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.