Take-out drinks have been a crucial source of income for many businesses during the pandemic; their immediate demise caught many New Yorkers off guard.
Photo: Victor J. Blue / Getty Images
For 16 months, owners and workers of New York City bars and restaurants have been forced to navigate and enforce a chaotic tangle of rules and regulations with little time to prepare for anything: mandatory closures ; sudden reopenings; change the rules regarding the size of outdoor catering structures and the exact times at which they can be used; the ever-changing seat capacity and restrictions; decrees that anyone can dine outside without a mask while some people can dine indoors with masks; new decrees that allow anyone to eat anywhere without any kind of mask; curfews; temperature controls; and contact tracing forms.
Well, even though things didn’t start to show awesome, exactly – there’s still a massive hiring crisis fueled in part by how this industry has historically mistreated its workforce, for example – they were at least starting to feel more stable. The rules seemed clear, customers understood what was expected of them, and reopening across town offered glimmers of optimism after more than a year of dismay, sadness and confusion.
Then, yesterday afternoon, the New York State Liquor Authority announced the end of a particularly popular and successful development during the pandemic era: take-out food and alcohol delivery to bars and restaurants. It was always expected to end, even though this new source of income has helped countless businesses stay in business. The ad itself was pretty disappointing, but the time had come, like New York Time Food critic Pete Wells put it, “a final blow to restaurants and bars.” SLA made the announcement on Twitter, and gave these companies just over 33 hours to prepare and comply. (To add to the confusion, the fact that, no later than June 6, the SLA Explain – also on Twitter – that the program would run until at least July 5.)
Asked about the pressure this puts on thousands of businesses that are still struggling for more than a year with no solid business, the official response from the SLA was: Hey, don’t look at us. A statement from the organization pointed out that the agency does not make laws and that the timing is due to the sudden end of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency order:
A permanent takeout alcohol extension is supported by 78% of New Yorkers, but the legislature failed to extend it and now the executive order has ended. It was only in New York that elected officials would ignore an overwhelming majority of the public. Restaurants are struggling to find staff, keep up with rising costs and manage a limited supply of products, and nearly two-thirds of applicants will not receive restaurant relief funds. New York State needs to do more to help, not hurt, our restaurant industry.
Why do this now? Explaining the end of the order, Cuomo said yesterday that the timing “will mark the end of the emergency we find ourselves in.” (As of yesterday, on average, more than four New York City residents still die from the virus every day, and anyone under the age of 12 remains unable to receive any type of vaccination, so: “The end . â)
The big question is: why do it? After the successful roll-out of similar programs, a host of other areas have moved in to make sure take-out drinks are here to stay: âSo far, fifteen states including Iowa, Arizona and the United States. Wisconsin, have granted them extensions, âaccording to a report released this week in the Washington To post.
This makes New York one of the few states to lose this program. So who wins with the end of âoffsite privileges,â as the SLA calls it, for bars and restaurants? The owners of liquor stores, for the most part, who once again become the main suppliers of take-out liquor. Who loses ? Perhaps you, a member of the public who have come to enjoy the convenience of, say, picking up a few bottles of wine at a nearby restaurant and bringing them home.
who really the losers, again, are the operators and workers who were given just one day’s notice – after learning something completely different less than three weeks ago – and now have to scramble to adjust and apply the new regulations once again. Will this be the last time this will happen? Who knows! For now, this only adds to the feeling that the needs of these companies aren’t really that important to state lawmakers, a reality that has been reinforced far too many times throughout this pandemic.