Why are NY bars selling Cuomo chips? New rules say no alcohol without food
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will require travelers from high-COVID states to fill out a form with their local contact information; July 13, 2020. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
ALBANY - New York's decision to require bars to sell food in order to serve alcohol came as a surprise to places that have reopened in recent weeks after being shuttered by COVID-19 since late March.
Bars said they were just starting to adjust to the new safety restrictions put in place in late May and early June when outdoor dining was allowed. Indoor dining is now allowed outside New York City with 50% occupancy and other social distancing measures.
Now they will have to ensure that food sales are taking place and avoid "the congregating and mingling that arise in a bar service/drinking only environment," according to guidance released Friday by the state Liquor Authority.
James O'Toole, a bartender at Dunne's Pub in White Plains, said he is concerned the new measure, announced Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will hurt sales.
"So before the person orders a drink, they must order food and once food is done no more drinks and person must leave," he said.
"Absolutely it's going to hurt business. You can no longer keep a bar open unless the kitchen is open. So our hours will be shorter and less revenue."
Cuomo said the goal is to limit the spread of coronavirus, and bars and restaurants with a lot of people in close proximity can be a risk — a problem found in other states that didn't take precautions.
Cuomo said outdoor dining with socially distanced tables, servers wearing masks and patrons wearing masks when they are not at the tables is what is allowed. Not the type of scenes in New York City and elsewhere where large groups are hanging out and drinking.
"We did not approve outdoor bars where you set up tables for people to place drinks and then you have 100 people mingling outside in a block party format," Cuomo said Thursday.
The measure also created some confusion about what constitutes food sales and the impact it will have on wineries, breweries and alcohol tasting rooms.
In the Finger Lakes, where many wineries have moved to sit-down tastings available by reservation, the addition of food doesn't represent a major change.
At Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard in Dundee, for example, flights are presented with nibbles like olives, nuts or apricots.
"For us, this was part of the hospitality that we had before," co-owner Oskar Bynke said.
Here's some of the questions and answers:
What is changing?
All places with liquor licenses — restaurants, taverns and manufacturers with tasting rooms — cannot serve alcohol unless it is "accompanied by the purchase of a food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law."
That's according to the state Liquor Authority's guidance released Friday.
The idea, Cuomo said, is to end the large party scenes that could lead to the spread of the virus: "We never said we were opening block party bars."
The only exception: Any clubs that might have opened or bottle clubs, where people bring their own alcohol to drink.
The state said people can report non compliance by visiting the Liquor Authority's website: sla.ny.gov.
What about to-go alcohol?
Restaurants and bars that sell food can still offer to-go drinks, which has gained popularity when they were limited only to takeout orders in Phase 1 of their reopening four months ago.
Those alcohol sales, though, need to be accompanied by food purchases, as has been the case since mid-March.
The change also doesn't affect the ability of a brewery, for example, to sell their products to go.
According to Travis Koester, owner of The Local in Nyack, Rockland County, the new rules make it difficult not only for his staff but for his customers.
“Not only do we have to teach our staff new rules, but we have to teach the public,” he said. “This is on top of everyone’s already shortened patience.”
The new guidelines, he added, will definitely hurt his bottom line because it requires people to purchase things they might not want, which may make them leave instead of order.
“Just because you’re adding food to the equation doesn’t mean all of a sudden everyone is going to listen and be compliant,” he said.
What does a food purchase even mean?
The new order doesn't mean that every diner needs to order filet mignon in order to get a glass of wine.
But it does mean that "for each patron in a seated party, an item of food must be purchased at the same time as the purchase of the initial alcoholic beverage(s)," the state guidance said.
Still, the rules do allow for "one or more shareable food item(s)" to be purchased in order to get some alcohol.
In other words, if you and a friend want to split a plate of 20 chicken wings and get some beers, that would meet the standards so long as the food "would sufficiently serve the number of people in the party."
So not one bag of chips for five people.
And the definition of food is...
More specifically, the state outlined the type of food that could be purchased to allow for alcohol sales.
For restaurants and bars, the rules are fairly broad: "sandwiches, soups or other foods, whether fresh, processed, precooked or frozen."
For breweries and wineries, it can be those foods or other types of products you might already find there, "including but not limited to cheese, fruits, vegetables, chocolates, breads, mustards and crackers."
Some bars have taken exception to the rule.
A Saratoga bar showed a receipt Thursday on Facebook for a $1 order of "Cuomo Chips," saying, "Here’s your food Cuomo. Come on by. I’ll buy your first chip."
Includes reporting by Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester food writer Tracy Schuhmacher.
Joseph Spector is the New York state editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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