Serving chips is not enough to comply with New York’s new booze rules

Posted On Thu, July 23, 2020 By

Posted On Thu, July 23, 2020 By In Policy, Restaurants

Photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since Governor Cuomo announced last week that restaurants and bars across the state could only serve alcohol if customers were seated and ordering food, the question has been, what exactly constitutes “food?” According to the State Liquor Authority’s updated COVID guidelines, “a bag of chips, bowl of nuts, or candy alone” are not enough; “food” is defined as that which is “similar in quality and substance to sandwiches and soups,” including “salads, wings, or hotdogs.” This basically makes it illegal for an establishment to serve a margarita if the customer only orders chips and salsa.

When the new rule first went into effect, it stated:

Food items intended to complement the tasting of alcoholic beverages, which shall mean a diversified selection of food that is ordinarily consumed without the use of tableware and can be conveniently consumed, including but not limited to: cheese, fruits, vegetables, chocolates, breads, mustards and crackers.

Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi even told The Post last Friday that merely buying a $1 order of chips is “consistent with the guidance — but you have to be seated.”

However, this loophole quickly circulated around, especially among upstate restaurants. It started with Harvey’s Irish Pub in Saratoga Springs, which put $1 “Cuomo Chips” on its menu. As Vice investigated, many other restaurants followed suit, some even implementing entire $1 menus that included facetious items like “just a few grapes” or a “handful o’ croutons.”

The SLA was quick to respond and tighten its rules “to ensure that patrons are enjoying a sit-down dining experience among a small group with drinks, i.e. a meal, and not a drinking, bar-type experience.” Their guidance continues, “A drinking, bar-type experience often involves or leads to mingling and other conduct that is non-compliant with social distancing and the use of face covering and is therefore not yet a safe activity during the current health emergency. The spikes/resurgence of COVID-19 cases that this has caused in other states is something that New York must avoid at all costs.”

The governor’s new guidelines were announced last week along with the “Three Strikes and You’re Closed” initiative that says any bar or restaurant that receives three violations (for social distancing, face coverings, or alcohol protocols) will be immediately shut down. This came after crowds continued to mingle and drink in areas like the East Village, Upper East Side, and the Hamptons.

Despite this, over the weekend, a troubling scene emerged in Astoria, Queens, where partiers flooded Steinway Street. On Monday, the governor went as far as to say that the state may have to roll back the opening of bars and restaurants in the city if the local government and police department does not enact stricter enforcement. In response, Mayor de Blasio said in a press conference later on Monday, “There will be heavier enforcement efforts by the Sheriff’s Office and, when needed, by the NYPD as well, around bars and restaurants.”

On Tuesday, amNY reported that two of these Astoria establishments–Brik Bar and M.I.A.–had their liquor licenses indefinitely suspended, as did the Maspeth Pizza House in Maspeth. At the beginning of the month, the West Village’s White Horse Tavern became the first bar in the city to lose its liquor license after racking up more than 30 violations.

With indoor dining in NYC still on hold, outdoor dining was extended through October 31.

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