Restaurants and bars now have the responsibility of making sure people on the sidewalk in front of their establishments are following the reopening rules. Patrons, whether on their property or in front of it, disobeying the rules could cause restaurants to lose their liquor licenses on the spot.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that he will issue an executive order strengthening state enforcement during the phased reopening to ensure compliance. In a separate executive order, he expanded the enforcement areas of the State Liquor Authority to give bars the responsibility for the area immediately outside of their locations.
“We’re going to take an added step where I’m going to increase the state’s enforcement capacity by executive order — where violations of the rules and the regulations could allow State Liquor Authority to do an immediate suspension of an alcohol license, which means a bar or a restaurant that are violating the rules could have an immediate suspension of their license,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing. “Business that is violating the rules could have an immediate shutdown order.”
Restaurants on the East End put out the word on social media asking customers for cooperation earlier this week. “We are troubled by reports of restaurants, bars, and patrons violating social distancing rules in the Hamptons. If restaurants are forced to shut down again for an extended period, there will be a large number that will never return,” a post from the Beacon restaurant in Sag Harbor, the Bell and Anchor in Noyac, and Fresno in East Hampton said. “If you love this community, do the right thing: adhere to the guidelines. Wear your masks. Try to maintain a safe distance.”
A similar post came from the Honest Man Group, which owns Nick & Tonis and Townline BBQ among other eateries on the South Fork. “We cannot afford to physically, emotionally and financially go through a shutdown again,” the post said.
“We are working tirelessly to create a safe environment for our staff, guests and the community. If another shutdown takes place, we all lose,” a post from lulu Kitchen and Bar and Duryea’s said.
While the statewide COVID-19 infection rates are at an all-time low — with less than one percent of yesterday’s tests being positive — the governor wants to battle complacency. “We have made great, great progress. I want to make sure we don’t slide back. I want to make sure that we don’t get careless. Weather is nice, everything is good. ‘Governor said the numbers are good. We don’t have to worry. Hallelujah.’ No.”
Even with the added enforcement capabilities, Cuomo said local governments need to do their part.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county has by and large seen compliance, despite what Cuomo said.
“We just reopened in Phase 2. There’s a lot of cooped up people, a lot of energy, that was stored up,” Bellone said, adding that police and other government agencies have been focused on educating businesses on the guidelines and have seen compliance.
It seems the biggest issue has been restaurants serving alcohol to patrons who are not seated at outdoor dining tables, which is prohibited during Phase 2 of the reopening, and those patrons congregating.
“We certainly don’t want to be overly aggressive with businesses that are struggling to get back on their feet,” he said, but he said that in situations where there are egregious violations then it is appropriate to have a mechanism in place where the SLA can immediately suspend a liquor license.