Bars, eateries push to reopen – Lobby groups want dine-in services to start before phase 3

Two lobbying groups are asking the state to allow New York’s restaurants and bars to begin serving in-house customers again during the second phase of economic reopening instead of two weeks later during the third phase, as is the case under the current state plan.

The New York State Restaurant Association and the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association base their requests on the federal Centers for Disease Control’s “Interim Guidance for Restaurants and Bars.” The publication, distributed after New York’s reopening timeline was created, offers multistep recommendations for gradual reopening, starting with limited bar and dining-room capacity and moving toward increasing capacity, with social distancing and strict training and cleaning regimens.

The federal plan would allow restaurant and bar reopening to start aseach of New York’s 10 economic zones reaches Phase 2, which atthe moment has been reserved for banking/finance, insurance, real estate and in-store retail. Restaurants, bars and hotels are in Phase 3, while arts venues, recreation and education are in Phase 4.

There is a two-week period between the reopening of each phase. The first, covering construction, agriculture and manufacturing, began Wednesday in the Capital Region. Under the state’s timeline, provided health metrics related to the coronavirus pandemic continue to be met, local restaurants and bars would be allowed to reopen June 17, with capacity restrictions and other rules expected to be in place. The lobbying groups would like to see that pushed up to June 3, when Phase 2 reopenings are set to start locally.

NYSRA’s proposal calls for outdoor dining only during Phase 2, with inside service to come later; ESRTA advocates in Phase 2 for all table-service dining areas to be limited to 50 percent capacity, bars to 25 percent, with bar patrons required to be seated. Capacities would expand in stages under both plans.

“Our plan relies on guidance provided by the CDC and the FDA, so our plan for reopening restaurants and bars is based on science and facts,” said Scott Wexler, executive director of the restaurant and tavern association. He said, “It takes measured steps to loosen restrictions on restaurants and bars that take the necessary steps to protect the public health. And it’s consistent with (Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s) objective to open up businesses in a safe and smart way.”

“We’re trying to get traction on outdoor dining” to start with, said Melissa Fleischut, CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. She noted that Connecticut began to allow outdoor dining at restaurants on Thursday.

In a follow-up statement, she added, “We are formally asking for expanded outdoor dining capabilities (and) an emphasis on social distancing requirements over capacity limits. … Just about every restaurant in the state is teetering on the edge of financial hardship, and we need to do everything possible to keep them afloat.”

Wexler and Fleischut said they have not received an official state response to their proposals. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who is a member of the Capital Region Control Room group that is leading local reopening efforts, said through aspokeswoman that he did not have a direct comment on the lobbying groups’ proposals. He said, “I want to reopen our county and our region with public health and safety asa priority.” A spokesman for Cuomo’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Area restaurateurs generally would like to be able to offer table and bar service again as soon as possible, to start to offset revenue losses that total $5.5 billion statewide since mid-March, according to NYRSA figures. But local owners said competing proposals and a changing timeline would be challenging in terms of hiring, training and ordering.

“I’d rather have one set date that we know we can work toward,” said Matt Baumgartner, who owns three Capital Region locations of Wolff’s Biergarten and the West Sand Lake bar and event venue June Farms. “If it keeps changing, that makes reopening more difficult.”

Vic Christopher, owner of the five-business Clark House Hospitality in Troy, said, “A delay or series of delays would be easier to navigate than … start dates earlier than anticipated.”