Restaurants say lift capacity limits won’t help much if six-foot distance rules remain | Coronavirus
With COVID-19 cases declining in the state and vaccination rates among the highest in the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo has started to ease COVID-19 restrictions for businesses, which critics say it is long overdue.
The statewide positivity rate fell to 1.22% on Friday, the lowest since Oct. 22, while the percentage of all New Yorkers with at least one dose of the vaccine was 47 , 7%.
Among the setbacks of recent weeks: the lifting of the curfew for bars and restaurants and the abandonment of the requirement of food with alcohol. Outdoor bars and restaurants will have their curfew lifted on May 17, Cuomo said, and those indoors will see the curfew lifted at the end of the month. The legislature, however, intends to repeal these curfews before the dates proposed by the governor.
And, on May 19, Cuomo takes the next step by easing controls on bars and restaurants. This is the date on which they will be allowed to operate at 100% of their capacity.
“We are now at a point where we are going to take a big step forward for the reopening,” Cuomo said recently at a press conference in New York.
But there’s a catch: Although capacity limits will be gone, businesses should still be required to enforce 6-foot distance rules as long as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. This creates a de facto capacity limit for businesses depending on the space they have. The state will update this rule if the CDC adjusts the 6-foot rule, Cuomo said.
Beyond bars and restaurants, capacity limits have been lifted for hair salons, gyms, offices, retail stores, museums, entertainment centers and theaters. Again, however, the 6 foot distance requirement remains.
For local restaurants that struggled to stay afloat during COVID-19, the news of the lack of capacity limits was greeted with a collective shrug. Among them: Amanda Rago, who runs the Parker restaurant chain which includes four Parker Grille and Tap House locations, Halsey’s in Geneva and 84 Fall in Seneca Falls.
“If the State’s definition of 100% capacity still requires a 6-foot social distance (between tables), then I would say most restaurants have been operating at full capacity since June 12 of last year.” , she said. “There was no point in increasing even the capacity if six feet were still needed. I can’t add tables or chairs anymore, so I can’t increase the capacity. This change may help other industries, but it does absolutely nothing for us. “
Dick Austin, owner of Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante on rue Seneca in Geneva, agreed.
“It’s still not good enough, especially in a place like Geneva, where so many of our restaurants are located in cramped buildings,” Austin said. “There are still capacity restrictions due to the 6 foot meal rule, which has nothing to do with a percentage capacity limit.”
On North Genesee Street, Uncle Joe’s has tight quarters at the best of times, restaurant manager Emily Smith noted.
“We’re going to open up our capacity, but we still have to maintain those six feet,” she said. “It’s nice to hear that change, but it really doesn’t do much for us.”
With the need for a 6-foot distance, Uncle Joe’s, which has two dining areas, can add around 14 seats, Smith said, adding that number could increase if they book larger groups of diners.
Smith said that after a year of food and beverage restrictions, the easing of protocols is encouraging, even if they don’t change things as much as needed to help restaurants get out of a tough time for the ‘industry.
“We’ll take whatever we can get now,” she said.
At Cosentino’s Ristorante on Railroad Place in Geneva, which was featured in a recent episode of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible”, owners Bill and Nancy Cosentino said they can seat 64 people in the main dining room at full capacity. . However, they can only accommodate 48 seats at the moment, due to the 6 foot rule. At 75% of their capacity, they can accommodate 37 people in a private room that, pre-COVID, could accommodate 50.
Bill Cosentino doesn’t think he can add more tables, even with the capacity limits lifted.
“We’re pretty much at maximum (capacity) right now,” he said, pointing out that they added outdoor seating last September when they pitched a tent with heaters. It’s good for eating at temperatures of 50 and above, he explained.
While the lifting of capacity limits is welcome – with the assumption that the 6-foot distance requirement will end – Bill Cosentino said the biggest issue is work. They are understaffed, as are restaurants across the region. They are short cooks and waiters, said Nancy Cosentino, noting that the restaurant would be open on Mondays if there were workers.
Smith agreed that it was also difficult to find workers at Uncle Joe’s and that they had a help-seeking sign outside the restaurant.