Updated, 7:30 p.m., with comments from Henry Wojtaszek, Batavia Downs Gaming:
For more than a year, restaurants, bars, bowling centers and similar establishments have had to operate under strict COVID-19 mandates from New York State, including the stipulation that patrons must purchase food when having an alcoholic beverage.
Well, judging from today’s announcements from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, some of those executive orders are about to become part of history.
State lawmakers reported they are pushing to shelve several of the governor's commands, while Cuomo, himself, also said that the 12 a.m. food and beverage service curfew will be lifted for outdoor dining starting on May 17 and for indoor dining locations starting on May 31.
Local reaction to the news indicates that these restrictions went on too long and were counterproductive.
“Serving food with beverage was a total distraction for customers,” said Kent Ewell, owner of O’Lacy’s Irish Pub, 5 School St., Batavia. “It was a very … again, you bend with the law, but you actually sometimes question it.”
But Ewell said that the imposition of a curfew for dining at midnight really doesn’t pertain to a rural area, such as Genesee County.
“A lot of the stuff that gets taken care of is affecting Downstate more than Upstate. Everything is throughout the state, but in Batavia, most of the guidelines announced do not pertain to anybody,” he said. “How many people do you know go out and get a steak at midnight? When they’re saying dining at midnight, that’s mostly New York City or where people are up later and hours are later – maybe in Buffalo there is some of that.”
Ewell: Finding Workers is Another Issue
Still, Ewell said he is glad to see Cuomo relaxing some things.
“I know that every state is different … obviously, I’ve questioned some things throughout this whole pandemic and hopefully soon we will get back to normal,” he said.
He acknowledged that coronavirus mandates limiting hours of operation and halting indoor dining took a toll on his business.
“We’re open from 11 a.m. to midnight but now we’re closed on Sunday and Monday,” he said, adding that it likely will stay that way due to difficulties finding employees.
“I won’t tell you why they’re not working, that’s my own opinion, but everybody is having trouble hiring people. It’s happening in a lot of industries,” he advised. “We’re still open, but financially it has not been a pleasant ride, let me put it that way.”
Cuomo also revealed the lifting (on May 17) of the 1 a.m. curfew for catered events where attendees have provided proof of vaccination status or a recent negative COVID-19 test result and the end (on May 31) of the curfew for all catered events.
Governor Announces More Changes
Other changes include:
- The resumption of catered events at residences beginning May 3 above the state's residential gathering limit of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, as long as the events are staffed by a professional, licensed caterer, permitted by the respective locality or municipality, and strictly adhere to health and safety guidance, including social and event gathering limits, masks and social distancing.
- The rethinking of dancing among attendees at catered events to be aligned with neighboring states, starting on May 3. This would replace fixed dance zones for each table with social distancing and masks.
- Starting May 3, seating at bars will be allowed in New York City, in line with the food services guidance that is in effect statewide.
Sen. Rath: It's About Time
Sen. Ed Rath, NYS Senate District #61, said the easing of these mandates are long overdue.
“While I am extremely happy for our restaurants that these arbitrary mandates are being repealed, it has taken far too long. It should never have had to come to lawsuits and court hearings for our restaurants to be able to operate,” according to his statement. “The industry has struggled for over a year, at no fault of their own, and the state should be doing everything they can to aid them in their recoveries. Instead, we are seeing the state continue to place unnecessary and cumbersome burdens on our restaurants and bars.”
Rath thanked “our amazing restaurants throughout Upstate who have adapted and continued to serve our communities throughout the pandemic.”
“During such a chaotic and stressful year, for many being able to order their favorite dish from their local restaurant was a much-needed sense of normal,” he said.
NYS Restaurant Leader: A Win for the Industry
On a state level, Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive officer of the New York State Restaurant Association, issued the following statement:
“We’re encouraged by the news that the state legislature plans to eliminate the burdensome mandate that food be purchased with alcohol. This will singlehandedly boost the bottom line for restaurants and bars all over the state, and many have yet to reopen because of this specific requirement. While this is a win for the industry, and one that the New York State Restaurant Association has been pushing for months, this is just one step. Let’s work together to create a plan that details full reopening.”
Cuomo, in his announcement, warned, “To be clear: we will only be able to maintain this progress if everyone gets the COVID vaccine. It is the weapon that will win the war and we need everyone to take it, otherwise we risk going backward.”
The governor also said that, starting May 15, gyms and fitness centers outside of New York City will increase from 33-percent to 50-percent capacity, casinos and gaming facilities will increase from 25-percent to 50-percent capacity, and offices will go up from 50-percent to 75-percent capacity.
"We are encouraged that things are moving in the right direction since ... we’ve certainly had our struggles with the state’s rules," said Henry Wojtaszek, president of Western Region Off-Track Betting Corp. "We welcome the ability to have more people on the gaming floor. We are actually installing more games in the next few weeks and will continue to adhere to the state’s guidelines on social distancing and our cleaning schedule."