By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — Representatives from New York’s struggling restaurant industry told lawmakers this week there’s not a single cure to all of the issues thousands of establishments have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, some solutions will put them in a better position to recover.
One would be permitting establishments to sell alcoholic drinks with to-go orders. That was a key message representatives from the New York City Hospitality Alliance and the New York State Restaurant Association shared with legislators during the joint public budget hearing for economic development.
NYRSA President and CEO Melissa Fleischut told legislators the measure has broad support statewide.
Establishments across the state were allowed to sell liquor and beer with to-go orders during the early stages of the pandemic when indoor dining was not permitted. As an emergency order, though, the practice stopped last year. However, Gov. Kathy Hochul made alcohol to-go sales a part of her budget proposal to lawmakers last month.
“Takeout and delivery are here to stay,” Ms. Fleischut testified. “… and we would love to believe that drinks-to-go can come back and be a part of our industry as we move forward.”
While Congress tried to make providing relief to restaurants a priority in their multitude of COVID-19 spending packages, Ms. Felischut and Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie told state lawmakers there was too much demand and not enough funding to help all the restaurants and bars that needed it.
Nearly two-thirds of the establishments did not get federal funding, Ms. Fleischut said. That equates to almost 18,000 businesses, and their combined need is about $5.9 billion.
In New York City, the restaurant industry is still down about 75,000 jobs from pre-pandemic levels. He added that some establishments were getting close to normal last fall, but the omicron variant outbreak that started in December wiped out most of that.
Before the hearing, the NYRSA held a series of press conferences at establishments across the state to drum up support for the measure that’s already allowed in 20 states.
Tess Collins, who owns McGeary’s Pub in Albany, told reporters that alcohol-to-go is a “common sense” idea.
Several lawmakers joined restaurant and bar owners at the events in Albany, Buffalo, Long Island, New York City and Westchester County. They pledged their support to make sure the measure either gets enacted in the budget bill that must be passed by April 1 or gets approved through a standalone bill.
“While the omicron variant is on the decline, we don’t know what the future holds, and we need to do what we can to stimulate economic recovery long term,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a Brooklyn Democrat who has sponsored a drinks-to-go bill. “It makes sense to enact legislation that will let the hospitality industry benefit permanently from a revenue stream that could make the difference between staying open and losing their livelihood forever.”
According to a survey the Restaurant Association conducted last year, the public broadly supports bringing alcohol-to-go back. The lowest level of support it received was in upstate New York, and Ms. Fleischut noted it still had 72% favoring it.