Jay Fitch, owner of Kings Tavern and Saratoga City Tavern, said he and other local restaurant and bar owners are looking for small victories. He thinks a proposal from the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association might just provide that.
The association, which represents over 3,000 taverns, bars and restaurants state-wide, is proposing a pilot program to lift the state-issued restaurant curfew of 10 p.m. for Super Bowl Sunday. The proposal follows in the footsteps of neighboring states to lift or push the curfew, and will allow for health officials to monitor how the curfew extension works.
“It’ll definitely open up the door for us, considering that anybody who’s looking to watch the game somewhere isn’t going to go out to a bar or restaurant if you know you’ll be asked to leave at halftime,” Fitch said. “If it was me personally, and this was a 10 p.m. curfew, I would just stay home, have some food and enjoy my family or whoever’s in my house.”
Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, said that after keeping an eye on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s other pilot programs, the association’s membership began asking about what this meant for their bars and restaurants.
“We have tried to take a very thoughtful approach to this based on science and facts,” Wexler said. “And although many of these proposals are clearly not good for our business, the most of them, we have felt have made sense from a public-health standpoint, or broader community standpoint. The curfew was one that from the beginning was one that didn’t sit well, because it suggested that behavior that was safe at 9:59 p.m. all of a sudden became unsafe at 10:01 p.m. That didn’t seem consistent with our approach to addressing this based on science.”
As of Jan. 27, Cuomo said he was not looking to lift the curfew, which was implemented before Thanksgiving. Cuomo has not commented on it since, and the governor’s office did not get back to a request for comment in time for publication.
“If you listen to the federal guidance, or the federal experience or the CDC, or what we’ve seen here in this state, when you keep the restaurants open late, that tends to be more problematic,” Cuomo said. “There tends to be more crowding, there tends to be more drinking. And with restaurants, we’re trying to keep it to actual eating, as opposed to the restaurant turning into a bar.”
Fitch, who shared that his Saratoga Springs locations are at their maximum half-capacity during 1 p.m. games on Saturdays and Sundays, said most leave at halftime during the 4:30 p.m. games, knowing they’ll likely have to leave during the last half anyway.
Seeing the association call for the state to lift the curfew, which Wexler said could lead to a 10-20% jump in revenue across the state on Sunday alone, gives Fitch hope.
“It gives you hope that the end is near with warmer weather coming around the corner,” Fitch said. “It makes you feel like this is not over, but at least moving in the right direction. I think it’ll definitely entice people to come out and watch the games at the bars and restaurants.”
But over at Katie O’Byrnes Irish Pub in Schenectady, owner John Keller isn’t as convinced that the curfew change will make much of a difference.
He said the Super Bowl is more of a stay-at-home event for families, and he doesn’t see too much interest at the pub, especially given that the event is on a Sunday night and most people have to work the next day. While getting a few additional customers would be nice, Keller isn’t convinced it’ll have a large impact on business.
“It’s a little too late,” Keller said.
New York State Restaurant Association CEO and president Melissa Fleischut came out in support of the proposal Thursday afternoon, saying that New York City can’t compete on an “uneven playing field.” Over in Connecticut, restaurants were given the greenlight to stay open until 11 p.m., while in New Jersey, curfew will be lifted entirely on Friday.
“With Connecticut and New Jersey easing curfews or getting rid of them entirely, we will see customers going out of state, taking the business there,” Fleischut said. “We need to continue to take positive steps forward to reopen the economy and loosen restrictions that are holding back our recovery. We urge Governor Cuomo to ‘kick the curfew’ to midnight before the big game. It’s a small step forward to help our still sputtering industry.”