CHELSEA, Manhattan — A snowstorm and frigid weather ground outdoor dining in New York City to a halt Wednesday and Thursday. Then, hours after the flakes stopped falling, restaurant owners got new rules on dining. It quickly caused a stir.
“Customers may not enter the inside of the establishment for any reason.” That’s what the city said in reference to outdoor dining patrons using the bathroom.
It also would prohibit people from reaching backyard gardens and rooftop dining.
Danny Emerman owns Bottino, an Italian restaurant in Chelsea. His backyard garden is helping the business survive.
“You can’t get to a backyard without walking through the building, unless you are fortunate enough to own a helicopter,” Emerman said.
Thursday’s memo caused an uproar into Friday morning, leading the mayor to reverse course.
There is no question that was a mistake,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday in regard to bathroom use.
He also issued some good news for Emerman.
“Yes, of course, you have to be able to walk through to get to the garden or the roof,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday it was a misunderstanding.
“There was never an intention to tell diners that you can’t use a restroom,” he said.
Both administrations put just a bit of blame on each other.
“Remember this derives from the state. We have been working closely with the state anytime there’s something that has to be resolved,” de Blasio said.
The Cuomo administration said the city used language from the State Liquor Authority’s earlier ban that limited indoor dining after 10pm.
“We thought it was common sense that when you said no one is allowed inside, obviously that’s for dining purposes and not the purposes of the bathroom,” said Melissa DeRosa, a Cuomo administration official.
New York City restaurants have stayed alive because of outdoor dining this past summer and fall. Indoor dining was allowed briefly, but with rising COVID-19 numbers, the state shut that down in the city.
Restaurants are counting on New Yorkers to order in food or sit in the cold — with access to the bathroom.
How could outdoor dining even work without allowing customers to use the restroom if they needed to?
“I don’t even think you could enforce that,” said Kellie Myers, who was dining at Bottino. “At that point, they are giving a shutdown order without actually shutting down restaurants.”
The New York City Hospitality Alliance said late Friday that it worked with the state to make further changes to restaurant operations guidance.
According to the NYC Hospitality Alliance, customers may now enter a restaurant to order and pick-up food, too. Delivery workers may also enter the premises with face coverings. And employees and owners may eat meals and drink non-alcoholic beverages as a shift meal.
New guidelines also require outdoor dining structures to have airflow on two open sides. If there is just one open side or none, then it is considered prohibited indoor dining.