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Restaurants and Bars Re-Opening During COVID-19 Pandemic


     As the infection rate of positive COVID-19 cases continues to decline in New York State, the strict re-opening rules and protocols for restaurants and bars continues unabated.

     As the rules currently stand, restaurants can only maintain 50% usage of its facilities indoors, with the exception of restaurants in New York City. Outdoor dining is permitted, but the tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Events at catering facilities may take place, albeit with a limit of 50 persons indoors. Moreover, only immediate family members of the host are allowed to dance at the event. However, outdoor usage of catering facilities is open ended, with spacing requirements.

     Bars are a different story as they must serve food when drinks are ordered. Additionally, spacing is limited both indoors and outdoors. The definition of the type of food to be served is quite complicated, but based upon the regulations, it appears that chips, pretzels and candy do not suffice.  For additional information, see this article as well.

     The enforcement of these regulations are left to the local County Health Departments and the New York State Liquor Authority. Summons can be issued, and liquor licenses suspended when a violation occurs.

     The other related issue with bars is that customers must be seated when drinking and eating. Standing will not be permitted.

     All of these rules render operating a bar or restaurant extremely complicated. Many operators are living in constant fear of being fined for even the smallest of infractions, as the task force is aggressively enforcing these rules. The ability to oppose such a fine is extremely difficult, as the State is utilizing the liquor license as a hammer to enforce compliance.

     Obviously, the best option is to make every effort to comply. This requires the operator to be extremely diligent to ensure that its patrons are abiding by the rules. This has inevitably created conflicts between the operators and their customers as well as between customers. 

     When a violation is issued, it must be taken extremely seriously and not ignored. The ability to challenge such an action is possible if done immediately. The power to pull a liquor license can destroy a business. If you are served, do not fight with the inspectors. Take down all of their information and immediately resolve the issue. Then, contact counsel immediately.