Restaurant and bar owners celebrate end of “food rule” as Legislature overturns executive orders

With the state Senate rescinding a number of executive orders put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the pandemic, restaurants are celebrating the suspension of a directive that required food to be sold in restaurants and bars to every customer purchasing alcohol.

“This will single-handedly boost the bottom line for restaurants and bars all over the state, and many have yet to reopen because of this specific requirement,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. “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 has been gradually lifting restrictions for bars and restaurants, but maintained the “food-with-drinks” requirement. 

The original intent of the governor’s “food rule” passed in July 2020 was to allow restaurants and bars to reopen while keeping patrons seated at tables, reducing the level of close contact, laughing, revelry and late-night drinking while the virus was spreading unchecked. 

But restaurant and tavern owners and operators, alongside many Democratic and Republican legislators, have been vocal about the damage these restrictions have had on business.  Restaurant owners teamed up with Republican lawmakers two weeks ago to discuss the economic impact of the ongoing curfews and food requirement. 

“The food law and time restraints have caused me to bleed my loan money. The food law alone has put thousands of businesses out because they do not have kitchens,” Tess Collins, owner of McGeary’s Pub in Albany said recently. “I am worried about the future of this industry.”

Groups like the New York State Restaurant Association have been speaking out for weeks on the removal of these mandates, and they are finally getting the turnaround they have been seeking. 

“We thank the state for listening to our request for a reopening plan, bringing New York in line with many of our neighbors,” Fleischut said this week. “With vaccinations going up and positivity rates going down, the hospitality industry can set our sights on rebounding this spring and summer as we scratch and claw our way back to profitability, which for many has seemed impossible.”

Bar and restaurant operators have seen steep decreases in revenue. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant industry sales in 2020 were down $240 billion from their expected levels. 

This food requirement was one of three executive orders overturned by the Legislature on Wednesday, April 28. 

“As more New Yorkers continue to get vaccinated, and our infection rates continue to decline, it is time to begin removing certain restrictions and regulations that are no longer necessary, so we can safely reopen and rebuild our state’s economy,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

The Legislature overturned two other executive orders this week.  Individuals who volunteer to take on significant government work will be treated as public officers in order to comply with government disclosure and transparency rules.

And “outdated” compliance rules for vaccine suppliers, such as full utilization of vaccines on hand within one week or additional paperwork mandates, will be relaxed. Senate leaders says this repeal eliminates “unnecessary” penalties and prioritization rules that slow down the vaccination process and are no longer necessary in light of current vaccination rates and appointment availability.

“We ask New Yorkers to continue to heed public health guidance as it relates to mask wearing, observe social distancing precautions and get vaccinated so that we don’t lose ground in our recovery,” Stewart-Cousins added.

Cuomo announced on April 28 that the 12 a.m. food and beverage service curfew will be lifted for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas beginning May 31.

Cuomo also announced that the 1 a.m. curfew for catered events where attendees have provided proof of vaccination status or a recent negative COVID-19 test result will be lifted beginning May 17, with the curfew for all catered events set to be lifted May 31.

Beginning May 3, seating at bars will be allowed in New York City, consistent with the food services guidance that is in effect statewide.