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Restaurants urge lawmakers: Keep the booze flowing

New York restaurant owners are calling on lawmakers to pass three bills that would make some emergency COVID rules permanent.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance is leading the call to keep issuing temporary liquor licenses, “to-go” booze buying and  the continuation of alcohol service in outdoor dining.


“New York City’s restaurant industry was absolutely devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite good news on the vaccination front, and the continued easing of pandemic restrictions, restaurants across the city are still struggling and need an opportunity to recoup their unprecedented losses,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “That’s why these three pieces of legislation are critical to the recovery of this ailing industry.”

The call to action comes with only 12 working days remaining in Albany’s legislative session. Even as federal relief has been deployed to stop the bleeding in the industry, the monies allocated to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund have essentially been exhausted, while countless local restaurants are still in a dire situation and   more financial relief is desperately needed.

Rigie continued, “If we want New York City to once again be the restaurant capital of the world, the global capital of commerce, entertainment, and tourism, then it’s crucial that necessary support is provided to these businesses. With economic recovery on the line, we’re calling on lawmakers to pass this slate of common-sense legislation in the next twelve session days.”

Outside of continuing the alcohol to-go program and allowing customers to enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail while dining al fresco, a major concern for small business owners is a current policy that forbids the State Liquor Authority (SLA) from issuing temporary liquor licenses to new restaurants and bars in New York City, as is permitted everywhere else in New York. New restaurant owners inside the five boroughs are forced to wait four to six months before legally pouring patrons’ drinks, even when they’re ready to open, while a license is being processed, slowing the city’s economic recovery.

State Senator Jessica Ramos is sponsoring the bill that would allow the SLA to grant temporary liquor permits.

State Senator Brian Benjamin, who is sponsoring a take-out cocktail bill in the Senate, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an immense toll on our restaurants and many of these small businesses have relied on the sale of to-go alcohol as a critical revenue source to help them weather the storm.

 “We now have the opportunity to provide them with some level of economic certainty by extending this program in law and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this legislation passed this session.”

“Thousands of restaurants in New York City have depended on outdoor dining to remain safe and economically viable as COVID-19 related restrictions created unprecedented hardships,” said Senator Roxanne J. Persaud.  “Given the success of the model, codifying this program into law is crucial to the continued survival of New York City’s restaurant industry and countless small businesses.”

Melba’s in Harlem

Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s in Harlem and president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said, “Outdoor dining as part of the Open Restaurants program has been a lifeline to my business, and to so many other restaurants across the five boroughs. And key to Open Restaurants is that the program allows liquor licensed-establishments to serve alcohol to customers al fresco.

 “If lawmakers want to help the industry truly recover and allow our customers to enjoy a glass of wine while dining outdoors then it’s critical lawmakers pass this important legislation to make it so.”

“The speed at which the city’s restaurant and nightlife industries can recover is largely dependent on whether the legislature immediately passes these three pieces of legislation before session ends in the next twelve working days,” said Robert Bookman, co-founder and general counsel to the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “New York City’s recovery is really at stake.”

Active Legislation, Bill Numbers, and Sponsors:

Extension of take out/delivery alcoholic beverages – (Multiple bills)

The ability to generate at least a modicum of revenue over the past 15 months  through the sale of takeout/delivery alcoholic drinks has been a lifeline for  many restaurants and their employees, and it is an extremely popular public policy. Now, these small business owners need the certainty of this revenue stream moving forward. Delivery and takeout will continue to be a critically important part of the restaurant business for a long time, so this source of ongoing revenue,  is a critical component for the sustainability of many restaurants and bars, and a way to deliver the convenience that consumers want.

Allow for the continuation of outdoor dining in New York City – S6353 (Persaud) / A7486 (O’Donnell)

 11,000 restaurants participate in New York City’s “Open Restaurants” outdoor dining program, which has been critical in saving countless restaurants from closing and responsible for bringing back 100,000 industry jobs. The existing Executive Order is essential in “Open Restaurants” success, because it allows liquor licensed establishments to serve alcohol in non-contiguous areas such as a restaurant’s roadway seating, when local governments authorize such seating areas. It also allows restaurants to serve on the sidewalk contiguous to the restaurant without having to file an alteration application with the State Liquor Authority (which could not possibly handle 11,000 applications as their processing time is already many months long). This order must be codified permanently so restaurants can serve alcohol in non-contiguous areas, because if they lose that right, many more will close, more jobs will be lost, and the public will lose out on enjoying a delicious meal and glass of wine al fresco while supporting that local small business.

Temporary SLA liquor licenses in NYC – S2743 (Ramos) / A3909 (Dickens)

 The NYC Hospitality Alliance strongly supported a proposal in the Executive Budget – which was ultimately removed from the final budget along with other non-revenue-related issues to the disappointment of our industry – that would allow the SLA to issue temporary liquor licenses to new applicants in New York City similar to the law that currently allows the SLA to do so for new applicants elsewhere in New York State. A stand-alone bill to make this change (A3909/S2743) will make a huge difference for people looking to invest in NYC and open new restaurants and bars by reducing the time it takes to begin legally serving alcohol from 4-6 months from the time of filing with the SLA to closer to 30 days from the time of filing with SLA (and, notably, after they’ve already gone through the community board process). This legislation will help get vacant storefront business open again and employees back to work much quicker. We need to do whatever we can to help new businesses open and it is clear that they cannot afford to be waiting months for a liquor license.  The SLA would retain its enforcement power and community boards would retain their roles in the process, thus eliminating any potential for harm as a result of this proposal, while providing the hospitality industry, and city with a vital tool to aid in its recovery.

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