As the weather warms, several local restaurant owners, who have been operating under coronavirus lockdown conditions for two months, are looking to outdoor -- al fresco -- dining as a way to attract more customers while maintaining social distancing.
City Manager Martin Moore said he's interested in exploring the idea further. Currently, restaurants won't be able to reopen under the governor's plan for the post-lockdown economy until Phase Three. Moore said he would like to explore giving restaurants a way to serve more diners, besides curbside and delivery.
Several restaurants in Batavia -- Roman's, T.F. Brown's, Islands Hawaiian Grill, O'Lacy's Irish Pub, Center Street Smoke House, for example -- have patios. Settler's has a patio-like space in front of the restaurant and owner John Spyropoulous would like to put it to use. Main St. Pizza Co. has in the past offered seats and tables on the sidewalk and that might be an option for other locations, but with social distancing requirements, restaurants might be looking for more space.
That could mean adjoining or nearby city-owned parking lots or Jackson Square.
Moore said he would have to check with code enforcement about using city property for restaurant use.
Derek Geib, owner of Roman's, Bourbon and Burger Co., and The Coffee Press, is eager to offer outdoor dining. Roman's has an open patio and a patio with retractable windows. While Bourbon and Burger and The Coffee Press don't have patios -- though they can offer sidewalk dining -- both have easy access to Jackson Square. So do Eli Fish, Center Street and the newly opened Gilliana's, but Geib thinks all restaurants that want to participate should have access to diners in Jackson Square.
Matt Gray, the owner of Eli Fish, is also eager to see Jackson Square opened up to diners, with tables spaced at least six feet apart, of course. Gray also owns Alex's Place and he said if there was customer interest, he would explore creating a dining area in the restaurant's parking lot.
The rub for most restaurant owners, however, is the ability to serve alcohol, especially on city property. The would require both the state and the city to make allowances for alcohol service but the state did recognize the importance of alcohol sales to restaurants at the start of the lockdown. Restaurants are allowed to sell alcohol during the lockdown during curbside pickup and delivery.
Moore said if the state would allow it and there is no local law that prohibits it, he is open alcohol sales in Jackson Square or in a designated space in a city-owned parking lot.
“If they give us some kind of ability for our restaurants to have more customers, we’re definitely going to explore every angle to try and make that reality," Moore said.
On a statewide basis, the New York Restaurant Association is supporting outdoor dining and today issued this statement:
“As parts of the state have begun the reopening process and other regions are progressing towards that goal, the New York State Restaurant Association is urging the state to allow restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining during phase two. Just this week, outdoor dining was included in phase one in Connecticut’s reopening.
Additionally, we are formally asking for expanded outdoor dining capabilities, an emphasis on social distancing requirements over capacity limits, and allowing continued sales of alcohol to-go. 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.
“To do our part, NYSRA, our members, and all restaurants in the state will continue to follow stringent sanitation practices to ensure the safety of our patrons and staff. That’s the promise that we’re making to our guests, who we can’t wait to serve again.”