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NYC Restaurateurs Demand Changes to ‘Punishing’ COVID-19 Rules as Winter Nears

A coalition of NYC restaurant owners has issued demands to the mayor and governor for changes in outdoor dining restrictions

New York City Restaurants Resume Indoor Service At 25% Capacity
A coalition of NYC restaurants are calling for meaningful changes ahead of the winter
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

Hundreds of NYC restaurants are calling on the city and state to make changes to existing COVID-19-related guidelines to help restaurants stay afloat during the winter months. The effort has been organized by Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants, the restaurant coalition that has seen its membership double from 250 members pre-pandemic to more than 500 in the last six months.

“The industry has not had a seat at the table,” says Andy McDowell, a member of the leadership team at BABAR, and the owner of Williamsburg dive bar Pete’s Candy Store. “Therefore the planning of guidelines has not only been much less effective but it has presented a long series of unnecessary hurdles for the restaurant and bar industry.”

Restaurateurs that have signed on to this latest call for action include Paulie Gee of the eponymous Greenpoint pizza destination, Netty Davit’ashvili of Williamsburg Georgian restaurant Cheeseboat, and Adam Landsman of Sunday in Brooklyn and Rule of Thirds.

The demands include removing the 10 p.m. curfew on outdoor dining and alcohol takeout and delivery; amending the roadside seating structure requirement that says barriers should be filled with 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of sand or soil; offer detailed metrics for reopening or re-closing restaurants; and to share data among various city and state agencies so they can carry out enforcement in a consistent manner.

“We get so many complaints from businesses saying they’re being jerked in different directions from different agencies,” says McDowell.

Since the ban on indoor dining — which officially began on Monday — many restaurateurs have been particularly frustrated with the data released by the state that prompted that closure. The state’s data showed that restaurants and bars constituted 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases in the last three months, compared to private gatherings, which accounted for nearly 74 percent. BABAR’s demands include spreading the contact tracing requirements among more businesses in the city.

“This would help the governor and mayor reconsider just how punishing their restrictions need to be on the bar and restaurant industry compared to other industries,” says McDowell.

With restaurants now having to rely on outdoor dining — even in the face of inclement weather — this group of restaurants is hoping the city will change some of its requirements for outdoor seating structures. McDowell says the the requirement to fill the barriers are extremely onerous, though the city says it has been providing restaurants with free sandbags and other materials for the winter months.

In regards to agency coordination on enforcement, the city says it doesn’t have an agency dedicated to COVID-19 responses and has to pull staffers from various agencies to meet its needs. The state did not immediately return a request for comment in regards to the demands.

McDowell described the group’s demands as “narrow and focused,” and added that the restaurant industry’s “massive needs,” far outstretch what’s being asked for over here. “We did not want to attack the performance of the government, we wanted to keep this actionable. We need our government to be responsive, and nimble, and listening to us.”