ALBANY — Outdoor sit-down dining can start Thursday at restaurants in the Capital Region and most of upstate New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that this option is now available in the seven regions of the state that are in Phase 2 of reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.
But just because restaurants can reopen doesn’t mean they will.
Cuomo’s announcement was a surprise to them, and many restaurants are nowhere near ready to resume operation. They need first to bring back their staffs, arrange their facilities to prevent spread of disease, and stock up on fresh ingredients. This last requirement is beyond their control in many cases — the entire food industry and its supply chain have recoiled and shifted as schools, restaurants and institutions suddenly stopped ordering supplies in late March.
Some are able. Milano in Latham said it would be open for sit-down dining Thursday, for example.
Other local restaurant operators said Wednesday they’re eager to reopen but can’t pivot in 24 hours.
Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., said the restaurateurs he spoke to Wednesday said they just aren’t ready to open now. They’d been targeting reopening no sooner than June 17, and will remain on that schedule.
“Everybody’s anxious to open and do it safely,” he said, but added there are just too many moving pieces to do it so quickly.
Nancy Bambara, vice president of DZ Restaurants, said she was surprised by the announcement.
“I’m on a call every morning and this never came up,” she said. “It’s thrilling and I’m glad to see we’re moving forward.”
But DZ’s three Saratoga Springs eateries can’t reopen Thursday with outdoor dining, and she expects many other restaurants won’t be able to. In some cases, their suppliers don’t even have staff on hand to start resuming deliveries.
“Those restaurants that are open for takeout might be able to transition easier,” Bambara said.
DZ’s Forno Bistro will reopen from 4-8 Saturday and Sunday with a special patio menu, and again next week. But Boca Bistro and Chianti Il Ristorante won’t — their patio spaces are small and very few tables would fit if pushed 6 feet apart.
“It doesn’t make sense in this wave to open either one,” she said.
Restaurants have been limited to take-out and delivery sales since mid-March, when Cuomo put much of the state’s business community into hibernation to thwart the spread of the virus.
Interior dining remains banned for now but will be allowed to resume — with precautions — in Phase 3.
The Mohawk Valley (which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties) will be eligible to enter Phase 3 as soon as June 12, as will four other upstate regions. Western New York will be eligible as soon as June 16 and the Capital Region — which just entered Phase 2 Wednesday — will be eligible as soon as June 17.
The state’s guidance for restaurants on outdoor dining amid the public health emergency runs more than 5,500 words. Key restrictions are:
- Tables must be at least six feet apart or have barriers between them (diners in the same party at the same table are allowed to sit as close as they like to one other).
- Employees must wear masks.
- Patrons must wear masks if not seated.
- Restaurants should encourage patrons to wait in their cars until called.
- Restaurants should encourage patrons to order before they arrive so as to expedite their dining experience.
The guidance notes that there is no known danger of COVID-19 transmission via food, so standard restaurant sanitary practices will be sufficient for food safety.
“COVID-19 is still a real threat and we're still battling it. I know it's not on the front pages today, but it is still in people and in society,” Cuomo said in a news release later Wednesday. "But thanks to the people of New York and the nurses, doctors and essential workers, today we have the lowest number of hospitalizations ever and we have the lowest death toll ever. We are continuously evaluating activities that can be safely reopened, and today we are adding outdoor seating at restaurants to Phase 2.”
Crossgates Mall issued a statement Wednesday saying it, too, wanted to reopen now that the Capital Region is in Phase 2. Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, who sits on the panel that monitors the Capital Region’s progress fighting the pandemic, said he’d make the case for malls to reopen.
Retailers are allowed to reopen in Phase 2 but malls greater than 100,000 square feet are specifically excluded. Mall stores with their own external entrances can open but interior corridors in malls remain closed.
From March 1 through June 2, 374,085 New Yorkers have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and 24,079 have died. But fewer are getting sick or being hospitalized. The Capital Region and Mohawk Valley are down to a positive test rate of 1.4% on a seven-day average.